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Maya Moore withdraws from Olympic consideration

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Maya Moore, the U.S. second-leading scorer at the Rio Olympics, withdrew her name from Tokyo Olympic consideration and will skip a second straight WNBA season.

Moore is on hiatus from competitive basketball to focus on criminal justice reform. Specifically, the case of a man who was sentenced to 50 years in prison but Moore believes is innocent, according to The New York Times.

USA Basketball confirmed Wednesday’s Times report that Moore took her name out of consideration for the 12-player Tokyo Olympic team, which is expected to be named in late spring or early summer.

“We are going to miss Maya tremendously, but we also respect her decision,” U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan said, according to the report. “A player of Maya’s ability does not walk away from the gym lightly. Everyone feels it. The thing that makes her so special is her approach, her dedication, which has always been contagious for our team.”

Moore last played for the U.S. in major competition at the Rio Olympics. She was one of the leaders on a team that earned a sixth straight gold medal. Moore started all eight games and averaged 12 points per game, second on the team behind fellow former University of Connecticut star Diana Taurasi.

Breanna Stewart, another former UConn standout, entered the starting lineup at the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Moore’s absence and earned tournament MVP. Stewart is returning after missing the entire 2019 WNBA season with an Achilles tear.

Moore also started five games at the 2012 London Olympics as the team’s youngest player.

Moore, 30, said “this is not the time” to retire, according to the Times, but it’s unknown when she might return to the national team or to the WNBA, where she won four titles and an MVP with the Minnesota Lynx from 2011-18.

“I got to experience the best of my craft, and I did that multiple times,” Moore said, according to the report. “There is nothing more I wish I could experience.”

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Skylar Diggins-Smith’s first game as a mom will be with USA Basketball

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Skylar Diggins-Smith said she participated in her first full practice since last year on Friday. On Saturday, she will be available to play in a game for the first time since having her son, when the U.S. women’s national team opens its four-stop tour against top college teams at Stanford.

Diggins-Smith, who did not play the 2019 WNBA season after childbirth and tweeted that she played the entire previous season while pregnant, said she has no restrictions.

“Just getting back in shape and rhythm and timing, some of those things I’m going to have to get back on-the-job training,” she said after practice Friday, a little over a month after participating in a training camp when she wasn’t at full-go. “I’m not even thinking about what percentage I am or putting any pressure on myself to be on a certain timeline or anything. I am what I am, and I know I still got a little more I can give.”

Diggins-Smith, a four-time WNBA All-Star, is one of the most accomplished would-be, first-time Olympians pushing for playing time at guard as Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi close out their international careers.

The WNBA’s No. 3 overall draft pick in 2013 was among the final cuts for the 2014 World Championship team. An ACL tear in 2015 derailed Rio Olympic hopes.

In February 2018, new U.S. head coach Dawn Staley named Diggins-Smith first when listing potential need fillers at the point. Diggins-Smith then played at an all-WNBA second-team caliber that season. Her last game before childbirth was Aug. 21, 2018, in the Dallas Wings’ playoff exit.

The FIBA World Cup, the biggest international tournament outside the Olympics, began a month later without her. After childbirth, Diggins-Smith tweeted that she took two full months away from everything due to postpartum depression.

She’s back and ready to do whatever U.S. coaches ask of her as the run-up to Tokyo Olympic selection starts.

“They know me. I’m just here to be myself,” Diggins-Smith said. “Whatever your role is — it may not be the normal role that you have on your team in the WNBA. Whatever the case may be. I’m just here. I’m back on the floor. This is my first 90 minutes, two hours together [at practice Friday], so I don’t really know what anybody expects of me, but just trying to give good effort, good energy, talk on defense and, yeah, just do whatever they’re asking me to do.”

Diggins-Smith has spoken with many moms in the WNBA.

That included Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who played 14 WNBA seasons and was the Wings’ interim head coach to close out Diggins-Smith’s last season in 2018. McWilliams-Franklin learned she was pregnant with her first child in high school, after which scholarship offers were rescinded. McWilliams-Franklin reportedly said she lost endorsements sitting out part of the 2002 season due to pregnancy.

Diggins-Smith noted that Dallas teammates Tayler Hill and Glory Johnson are also moms.

Hill, the fourth overall draft pick in 2013, learned she was pregnant after her WNBA rookie season, had son Maurice in June 2014 and returned less than two months later for the final stretch of her second season.

Johnson, the fourth overall draft pick in 2012, had her twin daughters, Ava and Solei, nearly four months premature in October 2015 and has sometimes gone months away from them while playing overseas.

“A lot of moms around the league to turn to and a lot of working moms, period, that I have to reference, to talk to,” Diggins-Smith said. “Some who I just met. It’s interesting to hear everybody’s stories and everything that they’ve been through. It’s definitely inspiring, aspirational to see and hear some of these stories.”

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Sue Bird hired by Denver Nuggets

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As Sue Bird works toward a potential fifth Olympics in 2020, she’ll have a new job: Denver Nuggets basketball operations associate.

The Nuggets announced the front-office hiring Friday, adding one of the most accomplished players in history. Bird had been tied to the team since mid-October, when she reportedly attended a practice.

“The best way to describe it is kind of like an apprenticeship,” Bird said on the R2C2 is Interrupted podcast published Wednesday. “They reached out. I had some mutual friends with the president there, Tim Connelly. He just kind of likes to keep athletes in the mix and likes to give them exposure and allow them to learn, give them that opportunity while they’re still playing. Music to my ears.”

Bird, who will be 40 in 2020 and three years older than any previous U.S. Olympic basketball player, is coming off her 16th WNBA season with the Seattle Storm, winning her third title. She also started all five of her games at the world championship in September, earning an eighth career Olympic or world gold medal.

Going into Rio, Bird said it would likely be her last Olympics. But in 2017, she said that she would continue playing for Team USA as long as USA Basketball asks. No younger point guard has unseated her on the national team.

“I’m on a timeline of my health, so as long as that’s still going, I’m going to still go,” Bird said on the podcast, adding that she will want to keep it a secret when she knows she’s playing her last season. “If I could squeeze out a couple more years, that would be great.”

The NBA has recently opened up roles for women. Most notably, Russian Olympian Becky Hammon became the first full-time female assistant coach in the U.S.’ four major team sports leagues with the San Antonio Spurs and later was head coach of their summer league team.

Nancy Lieberman, a 1976 U.S. Olympic silver medalist, and Kristi Toliver, who plays internationally for Slovakia, have worked as assistants with the Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards, respectively.

The WNBA season typically starts in mid-May, when the NBA playoffs are happening.

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