5 thoughts on USA Basketball’s roster for Tokyo Olympics

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Tom Pennington

It may not seem like it given the smorgasbord of events and news currently happening on our sporting landscape, but we are only a month away from the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (happening in 2021 of course).

This morning, USA Basketball coach Dawn Staley along with Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi unveiled the full 12-woman roster that will don the Stars and Stripes in Japan.

The roster? Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm) Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury), A’ja Wilson and Chelsea Gray (Las Vegas Aces), Tina Charles and Ariel Atkins (Washington Mystics), Napheesa Collier and Sylvia Fowles (Minnesota Lynx).

The announcement was made on NBC’s Today Show.

The objective for Team USA is obvious – a seven-peat in Tokyo. USA has gone six for six in the last six Olympic Games dating back to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta – the final Olympics prior to the debut of the WNBA.

As expected the roster is star-studded and should be the odds-on-favorites to bring gold back to the USA once the Olympic cauldron is extinguished. Basketball will begin on the Sunday following the Opening Ceremony with 3×3 hoops commencing the Saturday following the Ceremony.

Two sports actually will begin the Games prior to the Opening Ceremony – soccer and softball.

With our women’s hoops roster known, here are a few early observations a month out from the Games beginning in Tokyo.

Swan Song for the UConn GOATs?

With UConn legends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi being the elder stateswomen of this roster, this is more than likely their final Olympics. There was concern that with Tokyo 2020 unofficially becoming Tokyo 2021 that both Bird and Taurasi being a year older may deter them from making a run at another Olympics.

With both Bird and Taurasi being on the roster, it is the fifth time both will be on the Olympic team. After successfully claiming gold in 2004 in Athens, 2008 in Beijing, 2012 in London an 2016 in Rio a fifth gold medal is clearly in both of their sights.

Nothing like the first time

With Dawn Staley as coach and the history she has with Wilson with the Gamecocks, it was a lead pipe lock the Mayor of South Carolina would earn one of the 12 berths on the USA Olympic roster.

Interestingly enough, another of those 12 berths also went to another first-timer in Napheesa Collier – the 2019 WNBA Rookie of the Year.

This has a Tea with A & Phee episode written all over it.

Hey now, you’re an All-Star

Remember … this year’s All-Star format in Las Vegas will be a Team USA vs. Team WNBA format – meaning those named to the 12-person roster also double as who will represent Team USA next month at All-Star in Sin City at Michelob Ultra Arena.

It now means WNBA fans know who to vote for as far as Team WNBA goes. This opens up the possibility of an Arike Ogunbowale, a Jonquel Jones or a Candace Parker being selected for Team WNBA.

(Special note to WNBA fans – a certain New York Liberty who wears No. 44 better be one of the Team WNBA participants. Just sayin’.)

No Nneka?

The WNBA is the premier women’s basketball league in the world. With 144 roster spots between the 12 teams, only the elite of the elite make it to the W. By proxy, USA Basketball has the widest of talent pools to select from when it is time to compete for medals.

Snubs are inevitable – as was proven the last few times when Parker was left off the Olympic roster. But among those who did not make the final cut for Team USA – Nneka Ogwumike. The same Ogwumike who has won two gold medals at FIBA Worlds.

Staley mentioned that the reason why Ogwumike did not make the roster was because of injuries. Taurasi this season has been bit by the injury bug yet she made the final cut.

Needless to say, Ogwumike’s sister and Los Angeles Sparks teammate Chiney was anything but pleased that her big sis got snubbed.

The displeasure was apparent throughout the Ogwumike family.

Again – when USA Basketball has such a vast talent pool to select from, glaring snubs are almost inevitable. Still one cannot look at Ogwumike’s resume, her being in the prime of her career and her importance to the women’s basketball community being president of the WNBPA and think she is not worthy of being named an Olympian.

One big thing to keep in mind with all of the talk of rosters – said roster was selected by a committee. Ogwumike being snubbed was not Staley’s call. Another big thing is that at the FIBA Olympic Qualifiers which were contested early 2020 pre-COVID, Ogwumike earned All-Star Five honors (and MVP honors) for the group Team USA competed in.

She will be 34 at the next summer Games in Paris in 2024 and at the following Olympics in 2028 in LA of all places, she will be 38. As illustrious a career as Ogwumike has had, it is not out of the question that she could still be playing at a high level by that time. Bird is on an Olympic roster in her early 40s. Taurasi is on an Olympic roster and is knocking on the door of the big 4-0.

Hopefully in 2024 when that Olympics roster is unveiled, Ogwumike will claim one of those 12 roster spots.

Good Things Come in Threes (Right?!)

This will be a year where 3×3 ball will be as much in the spotlight as much as the more conventional 5×5 game. Because USA Basketball not only, of course, qualified for the 5×5 tournament, but also for the first year that 3×3 hoops will be a sport in the Olympics.

The four that punched Team USA’s 3×3 ticket to Tokyo were Allisha Gray (Dallas Wings), Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky), Katie Lou Samuelson (Seattle Storm) and Kelsey Plum (Las Vegas Aces).

One would think that those four would be who would also be representing Team USA in Tokyo in Olympic competition, right?

Right?

Really, USA Basketball? Really? The 3×3 roster should have been unveiled the nanosecond after the team defeated Spain to earn its berth to Tokyo if not at the same time as the unveiling of the 5×5 roster this morning.

Does USA Basketball really want a PR disaster a month out from the Tokyo Games? How would Plum, Samuelson, Gray or Dolson feel if they were the ones to qualify USA Basketball for the inaugural rendition of 3×3 hoops at the Games only for those roster berths to go to other players. Collier was originally on the 3×3 roster before Samuelson.

Those are other players that they are likely close with given how tight-knit the WNBA family is, but it has to be a personal slight if that were to be the case.

If that were to be the case, our guess is they would feel a similar sort of way as the Ogwumikes feel about Nneka’s 5×5 snub. Remember that Gray, Samuelson, Dolson and Plum have taken time away from their respective WNBA teams to play overseas get Team USA into the Olympics in 3×3 play. And that USA Basketball has the same issue with 3×3 as it does with 5×5 – a wide open talent pool.

But to potentially pull the rug out from the four women who earned Team USA the berth (or even just one) for someone else would earn USA Basketball a gold medal in public relations debacles – if such a thing were an Olympic sport.

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