Candace Parker said she will not play for Team USA again, detailing her reaction to being left off the Rio Olympic team nearly two years ago.
“This is the first time I’ve spoke on this,” Parker said on an SMYF podcast published Sunday. “I’m not playing USA Basketball anymore.
“I’m one of those people. Once it’s done, it’s done.”
Parker was surprisingly left off the 12-woman Olympic roster for Rio after being a key player on the 2008 and 2012 gold-medal teams.
Asked if the omission was due to politics or an “intentional snub,” Parker detailed her commitment to USA Basketball playing through injuries from before her freshman year at the University of Tennessee through the 2012 Olympics. Plus, taking time away from her daughter to play on an October 2015 European tour one week after her Los Angeles Sparks were eliminated from the WNBA Playoffs.
“If it wasn’t going to be my play that made the final decision [on the Olympic roster]. If it wasn’t going to be my performance on the court, don’t have me do that,” she said of the European tour and Rio Olympic promotions. “It was more about loyalty. I’ve been loyal to you for this long. At least give me the heads-up that you might not make the team, and then I could choose. … I was hurt because I feel like I’ve played through so many injuries, given so many hours to USA Basketball, and then in one fell swoop they can just be like, it doesn’t matter about your play, you’re just not on the team.”
Parker’s place on the Rio team was in jeopardy after she missed both the 2014 World Championship (knee injury) and a February 2016 training camp (overseas club commitment), the last camp before the Olympic team would be named, combined with an influx of bigs since the London Games.
“We don’t get into specifics speaking about each player publicly,” USA Basketball director Carol Callan said after the 2016 team was announced. “Needless to say there are a lot of deliberations. We have a committee for a reason. … What it does speak to is that we have incredible depth on this team. … We’re looking at depth and talent at each position, and there are just a lot of numbers games that are played at that three-four position that is the strength of our team. We appreciate Candace. It’s not an easy call to make.”
Since Rio, U.S. head coach Geno Auriemma stepped down (as expected after two Games), and Dawn Staley succeeded him. Auriemma was not on the selection committee for the 2016 Olympic team. Parker said that even if the whole USA Basketball administration changed, she would not be interested in playing for the U.S. again.
“I think Dawn Staley is an amazing coach. She’s awesome. I wish I could have played for her,” Parker said. “It has nothing to do with her, but for me, mentally, I wouldn’t be able to represent USA Basketball anymore.
“I jokingly said [8-year-old daughter] Lailaa was going to get a passport and play for another team, but that’ll be her decision,” Parker said with a laugh. “I can’t put that on her.
“I was more upset about not being able to share the [Olympic] experience with my daughter. That would be the Olympics that she would have remembered.”
Parker was not among 29 players named to the initial U.S. national basketball team player pool for the 2020 Olympic cycle in December. Players can be added or dropped from the national team pool between now and 2020, so the door is not completely shut on anyone.
Callan declined to say whether Parker declined an invitation to the national team.
“We generally don’t talk about players that aren’t here because there’s a variety of reasons why they’re not. She’s one of them,” Callan said in December. “We choose not to try to speak for them. So, I would simply suggest that you ask her. Candace has been an important part of our program over the years. We talked previously about the decision when she didn’t make the Olympic roster. I just think she’s better suited to say that. I don’t want to speak for her.”
Parker said last May, two months after Staley’s hiring, that she didn’t know if she would play for the U.S. again and had not thought about it.
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Clarification: A previous version of this post did not include the name of the podcast with Parker’s quotes. Upon request, the name was added.