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USA WOMEN'S BASKETBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
July 21, 2016
USA Basketball Women's National Team Director CAROL CALLAN: Welcome, everyone. I would echo Caroline's thanks for being on this call. We are amazingly less than 48 hours from the start of our training camp. I know the athletes, many of them still have games tonight and tomorrow night with their WNBA teams, so they haven't completely shifted their focus yet to the Olympic team, but they're all having to pack.
I know they have sort of one foot in our door and certainly a major foot in the WNBA door still.
I'd like to just give you a brief overview of our training camp. We will begin in Los Angeles on Saturday evening with our first practice, and then we'll play on Monday the 25th in a game with the select team, a group of young WNBA players as well as some of the young players from our national team pool.
We then head to Newark, Delaware, for the first date of our four-game international tournament. As you may have read, we will be hosting a tournament with Australia, Canada, and France, three teams that are very quality teams, very competitive teams, and it should give us great preparation. Each of the three game dates are double headers, so at the University of Delaware at the Bob Carpenter Center we will have first a game between Australia and Canada followed by our game with France.
We then head to Bridgeport, Connecticut, for a game on the 29th, again, preceded by France and Australia, and we will play Canada at the Webster Bank Arena.
And then we move to New York City, and legendary Madison Square Garden, where Canada will play France followed by our game with Australia.
We then head to Houston for some USOC team processing activities, our final domestic practice, and then depart the evening of August 2nd and arrive in Rio on the morning of the 3rd. That's pretty much our domestic tour. I'll turn it over to Geno.
U.S. Olympic Women's Basketball Team head coach GENO AURIEMMA: Thank you, Carol. Same as Caroline and Carol said, it's right about that time now when all the planning and everything that we've done leading up to this the last two years, starting Saturday in Los Angeles, we get a chance to be with our entire team for the first time ever.
I know it sounds crazy, but I think we have eight practices and four exhibition games, and then we get started August 6th.
We're excited. It's a great group. I know the players are excited. They're all in great shape. They've all been playing the last couple of months. There's been a lot of great play in the league, and our players certainly have been a big part of that. We've got great veterans coming back again, and we've added some young guys who this will be their first time.
I love the group, and I can't wait to get started.
Q. Geno, you mentioned that the players are coming in in great shape, but are you also concerned that because they've been playing competitively for at least a couple of months now that there will be some soreness in trying to incorporate all their talents into one team in such a short time?
GENO AURIEMMA: Yeah, yeah, we're very conscious of that. And believe me, the players have let me know in their own way that, hey, you know, we're playing, and you need to take that into consideration, hint-hint, meaning how about we just don't practice and we just go play in the games.
Somewhere in between let's not practice and let's just go play, trying to start at the beginning. We're going to find a way, like we always do, of managing whatever it is that the players are dealing with, and I'm sure that everybody has got something that's nagging.
But once they get with us and once the practices begin and once the games begin, all that has a habit of going away.
Q. Even though you know all the players and you've worked with them before, is there any one little thing that you know you have to work on even with a short time frame before you go to Rio?
GENO AURIEMMA: I think the thing that keeps us coaches probably awake more than anything is the way the international teams play is so different than what they face every day in the WNBA.
Getting them acclimated to that style of play in a short period of time is going to be the key. Just one quick example is, you know, in the WNBA there's a defensive three-second rule, which doesn't exist in the Olympics. The players have constantly got to be reminded, yeah, you can stay in the lane and not give up a lay-up, you know; there's not going to be a whistle.
You see a lot more -- because of that, you see a lot more zone defenses and a lot more defenses that are packed in. So it's a little bit different than what they're used to, and we've got veteran players, so that's a huge plus for us.
Q. It's 20 years since the '96 team, which obviously sort of got the ball rolling on a professional league and it was a pretty seminal moment for women's basketball. That was also a pretty good year for the process with everybody taking a year, coming and spending a year with the team. Can you talk about the degree to which that team 20 years later has still laid the foundation for what you guys do, the legacy of that team in '96?
GENO AURIEMMA: Yeah, yeah, I agree with you on that. Sometimes circumstances and events lead to changes, and by virtue of what happened in Barcelona in '92, where the U.S. women did not win the gold medal, some significant changes were made, and that '96 team was the first team that had a chance to train together like the rest of the world does, and they really, really brought the game all over the country. They played a lot of games on college campuses and were able to get people to see just what kind of team we had.
And then obviously we benefitted from having the games in Atlanta, so people got to experience that group of players firsthand.
You know, USA Basketball had been pretty good before the Barcelona Games, winning gold medals, but that '96 team I think readjusted kind of the balance of power so that starting 20 years ago to today, there's never been a more dominant team in the Olympics at any sport more so than USA women's national team, and that '96 team was the first.
Q. Carol, if I could follow up, could you speak a little bit to the thought process behind getting to that year-long training schedule and bringing Tara on board and whether or not in the end you feel like that it sort of leads you to where the program is now?
CAROL CALLAN: Sure. It really was interesting because there were a variety of factors that all dovetailed nicely into a really good, perfect storm. The NBA was beginning to think about a business model and wanted to see if women's basketball could sell in a professional sense financially.
That coupled with the popularity of the women's college game, and if you remember, UConn had an undefeated season and won the national championship in 1995, had a great rivalry going with Tennessee, which is another university that was having great success and had an undefeated season, as well. And so you had sort of those two forces coming together, which made the NBA sort of pay attention, and then you had us coming off of two bronze medals, one at the '92 Barcelona Games and then at the '94 World Championship.
We were looking at what is it from a competitive standpoint we need to do, and then there was a nice nudge from a financial standpoint through our marketing partner at the NBA to go ahead and see how this would go.
So we put together a year-long program. We kind of -- well, 22 games against colleges. We had several games, four games, I think, on ESPN domestically, and then we really traveled around the world and had probably 100,000 miles put together and came to Atlanta with an unbelievable confidence and investment in what we had done, and yet almost like a schoolgirl excitement about -- I remember in the bus heading up to the opening ceremony stadium and the excitement and screaming that was in our bus from the athletes that had been together for a year and now they could see the end result.
And obviously that team played so well, walking out with 33,000 people watching at the Georgia Dome was an unbelievable thrill, as well.
In spite of that, we had to beat a very good Australia team in the semifinals. Teresa Edwards had 21 assists, all I think to Katrina McClain. We had to play our very best still, and we played Brazil in the final game, and I remember in the first half thinking we were so good, yet we were only ahead by 13 at halftime or something like that.
So we were pushed competitively, but we simply were not to be denied. Then veterans on that team, Teresa and Katrina, but all the others then continued to play, Dawn Staley, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes. Lisa played in four more, Dawn three more. So four-time Olympian; Dawn and Cheryl were three-time Olympians, and that continued to set the tone and the culture for teams to come.
Those players were still playing when Sue, Diana and Tamika then as young players were on the team, and they've understood the culture and what it means to be a part of the program. So I think what you saw see with our quest for a sixth straight gold medal, you see the benefits of that '95-'96 team, and it will continue hopefully for years to come.
Q. Geno, you talked earlier about how this group hasn't really been able to come together yet, but there's obviously some chemistry within the team, either WNBA teammates or prior Olympic teammates. What advantage do you think that chemistry has as a step ahead even though you haven't been able to meet up until this point?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, it will have a lot to do with the success, and I think that having players who play together as teammates in the WNBA, I think we've got four in Minnesota, we've got two in Seattle, we've got two, I think, in Phoenix, you know, that obviously really, really helps, helps a lot.
The fact that the majority of them played together at the World Championships in 2016, that helps a lot. And the majority of the team I want to say maybe eight or nine were in London. So there is a history of being together, which without that continuity, it would be very, very difficult.
All those things, plus the players' willingness to kind of give up a lot of themselves to be part of this I think is the biggest factor in why we're so good.
Q. Following up on that sort of sacrifice, everybody on this team is obviously a superstar in their own right. What are they going to have to give up in order to be the most balanced team? You talked back in February about having a team that's more than just the 12 scorers but kind of the give and take with each other.
GENO AURIEMMA: Yeah. You know, it's a lot like a great orchestra, you know? You know, everybody that's playing their particular instrument may be the best in the world at that, but that doesn't mean you get to do your own thing because then all of a sudden it's not an orchestra anymore, it's just a bunch of individuals trying to show how good they are.
So everybody on this team, the reason they're on this team is because they understand that, and they are really, really good at sizing up the situation and saying, okay, what does this team need from me, not like this is what I do on my team so this is what I'm going to do here. No. What does this team need from me, and how do I complement everyone else. We're very, very fortunate that the players that we have really, really think that, feel it, buy into it, and live it every day.
Q. You are in the rare spot for the U.S. of being a head coach for the second time. What did you learn in 2012 as the head coach that you can apply to help you guys be successful this time around?
GENO AURIEMMA: You know, one thing I'm not crazy about is I learned how easy it is that you can lose. I didn't know that going in. When your first child is born, you go in thinking, what could possibly go wrong, until you're in there and you see everything, and you go, oh, my God.
So I think the fact that we were down at halftime against Australia shows you just how tenuous this thing is, that it's only one game. It's not best of five, it's not best of seven. You have to play great every night, and all it takes is one night where the other team plays better, and you come home with something less than a gold medal. I got to see that firsthand, and I wish I hadn't, but now I know about it.
That was a big learning experience for me.
The other thing I think is try not to get caught up in the gold medal game. I think the first time around I was so fixated on we have to win a gold medal, we have to win a gold medal, that I probably didn't really experience as much as I could have throughout the rest of the tournament, and going in this time, I want to do a much better job of playing it one day at a time and taking it one game at a time and not -- those last two games, semifinal and final, will take care of themselves if we do everything else along the way. I'm going to try to be more conscious of that.
Q. This next eight-day stretch where you have a couple practices and the exhibition games, what do you hope to get most out of this little stretch you have coming up before the Olympics?
GENO AURIEMMA: Hopefully just reacquaint them with what we do. We've got a lot of stuff on film from London and from Istanbul and the World Championships. So there's a lot I want to show them to kind of remind them this is who we are, this is what we do, this is how we do it, and they're really good, they're really smart. They're professionals. It won't take them long.
But at the same time, I don't want to stay the same and be stagnant. There's some things I want to add. There's some things I want to do a little bit differently, and we don't have a lot of time to do it, obviously. I want to keep it fresh for them.
So we're going to try to just be a little bit different than we were last year. Not much, but a little bit, just enough to keep them on their toes.
Q. A really big story coming out of basketball today is the WNBA fining teams and players for the uniform violations where they showed their support for Black Lives Matter and the officers who lost their lives in Dallas, and do you wonder or do you know if the players will find a small way to continue to show that support on the Olympic stage maybe? Tina Charles tweeted today, she's one of the players who got a fine, "I refuse to be silent," and that's very powerful.
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, and I respect Tina and the players in the WNBA for their concern and their voices and the passion that they have and for their beliefs. I really do. I'm really proud of some of my former players and the way they've stepped forward and spoken their conscience and express their feelings. I really believe that.
I don't know what the basis is for the WNBA fines. I haven't read their side of it. I assume that showing that kind of concern is fine from what I could tell and going through it, and I don't know if the issue is the fact that the players want to continue doing it every single game. I don't know what the issue is.
As far as USA Basketball is concerned, you know, that's a very delicate subject. Obviously each player has an opportunity to be who they want and say what they feel, but at the same time, you are representing the United States of America, and you are part of the Olympic team. So somewhere -- it's a delicate, I think, question, and I'm sure it'll come up, and we'll have to deal with it. Not me per se, but Carol and the USA Basketball and the USOC, the Olympic committee. I really can't -- so far I have not heard anything or any talk about that.
Have you, Carol?
CAROL CALLAN: No, I think conversation and understanding is an important piece, and so conversation definitely will be had with us. I think whatever we can do to help people understand the situation and others is always an important piece.
I think we try to do that with our younger teams. We want them to understand the magnitude of their position on a national team as well as trying to understand the other countries that we go to. I know there are plenty of issues around the world, and I think that's all part of what this is about is traveling and seeing those things and discussing it and trying to find solutions together.
So I would say we would certainly be interested in solutions and conversation.
Q. Carol, Breanna mentioned the close relationship that you guys have. Can you talk a little bit about that first meeting and her growth today?
CAROL CALLAN: Sure. You know, I smile, I was talking to a coaching academy today about Breanna specifically. She joined us when she was 14 years old, so the benefit you have is that she's wide-eyed and thinks that perhaps because she has great respect for authority that as an adult you perhaps walk a little bit on water more than you really do.
But she's the type of athlete and person who in all of her time with us has continued to try and be the very best that she can be and has every time we've asked her to play played.
She has more games, USA Basketball games under her belt than many multiple-time Olympians that we have. But I think the reason that we have a bond is because she has always been there. She was a high school kid on a Pan-Am team in -- when was that, it was the last one, so it was 2011, and she was playing with college kids.
I remember saying to her at that point, I said, you know, let's be best friends forever because I hope you'll play for a long, long time, and we've stuck to that.
Yes, she's a great player, but she's an even better person, and I think that's why I'm drawn to her, and hopefully she realizes that we will do anything we can for her, as well.
Q. Her and Sue have interesting ties in the fact that they're New Yorkers and went to Connecticut and now are on the Storm team. Obviously there's different positions, but are there any underlying -- you know the both of them well. Are there any similarities at all between the two players?
CAROL CALLAN: You know, the fact that they're talented, competitive people is where they have commonalities. But it just sort of is funny to me now to watch both of them because Sue feels a little bit like an older sister that every once in a while you just kind of roll your eyes with the youthfulness of your little sister, and yet you would protect her no matter what.
Sue does that with a lot of players. But I can see with her, with Stewie now out in Seattle, where Sue is obviously the elder statesperson and Stewie is the rookie that there are times when Sue -- Sue used to contact me for Diana. You know, if I needed something from Diana, I'd go to Sue, and jokingly we'd go back and forth that really Sue was her agent when they both played in Russia together.
And now same things with perhaps some drug testing needs or questions, you can tell that they've been talking about it, and Sue is the one that will ask me. So she's just -- she's protective but in a very laid-back kind of way, where she's -- she'll be a great coach some day if that's what she chooses to do because she understands guidance, but yet letting somebody figure it out along the way and then smile at the youthfulness whenever that's necessary.
Q. Coach Auriemma, Tina Charles is having a great season, and again, she's always played at an elite level, the basketball talent has never really been a question with her. This season, too, you've seen her become a very vocal presence off the court, publicly discussing important social issues, and I think in her career she's been perceived as a reserved kind of person. What's it been like watching her mature as an athlete and an individual this year?
GENO AURIEMMA: Obviously it's been very noticeable. You know, when you've been playing at a high level like Tina has for a long time and you look up and you're still young, you're still 27, and you've accomplished a lot in the league, you know, Rookie of the Year, MVP, this will be her second time as an Olympian. A lot of things that players dream about have come true for Tina.
And yet she's grown and become different this year, added a lot to her game, first off, on the court. You watch the way she passes the ball now, she was always a good passer and she's become a great and willing passer. She seems to trust her teammates more.
And part of being a leader, I think, part of being someone that can carry your team to a championship, which I know Tina really, really wants to do, because she hasn't, is being vocal and inspiring your teammates, and she's doing that, and she's doing it on and off the court.
You know, it's one thing for athletes or anybody else to say things because it's easy. We have, coaches, athletes, we have a forum. We have people like you asking us questions. So it's easy for us to say things and stand up for things.
Having said those things, then the actions speak way louder than whatever your comments are. So it's one thing for Tina to say, I want this, or I want to stand up for this, but I think when you see her actions and you see what she does, that's a more powerful statement than anything that she might say.
Q. Geno, you said that you had a few things you wanted to accomplish and a lot of it would be looking at the old films and stuff. But is there a certain type of player that you need in order to come together this quickly? Is it their skill level that helps you bring them together quickly or is it their personalities or their IQs?
GENO AURIEMMA: A little bit of everything. I don't know that you can play on this team at this level if you don't have the right personality, the right temperament, the right IQ for the game, be unselfish. I mean, everybody on the team is talented. That's a given. But there's a lot of talented players in the WNBA.
Everybody on this team has those other qualities.
But what you want is I think you want players that can play more than one position, can function in more spots on the court, can do things as instinctively, as easily as when they are told what to do, and I go back to what I said earlier. You want players who are unselfish, and you want players who understand and quickly adapt to their roles.
And you'd be surprised; there are players that are completely one way and have one role on the team that they're on, and they are completely different and play a completely different role on the Olympic team. Ultimately that's what you want. Sometimes it's one and the same; don't get me wrong. Sometimes players are asked to do exactly what they do on their own team.
I like to talk about Maya a lot, and Angel, those two particularly. Maya plays in Minnesota on a great team, just won three championships in her four years in the league, and Maya knows one thing. Every time I get it, I'm open, I'm shooting it, and every chance I get to score points, I'm going to do that because that's what I do, and I do it as well if not better than anybody.
Well, it's kind of the same for us. You know, she knows that, but to a point. She knows that. And Angel is the same way. Angel goes, this is what I do on my team. I create havoc defensively and I can do things from my position that almost no one else in the WNBA can do, and she provides the same role for us.
You know, so some are more flexible than others. Some have to give up more than others. But every one of them completely understands, and that's why they're able to come together so easily.
Q. Have you made it a lot more difficult on yourselves playing in four different cities and practicing in different cities, or is that just necessary because you want to always continue to help grow the game in different places?
GENO AURIEMMA: Yeah, I mean, ideally you could stay in one place and save on the travel and wear and tear and really get a lot of work done and play those games in one city. But you know, we tried to go -- everywhere we're going, there's a reason. There's a reason for us to be in LA. The men are out there, and it's a festival atmosphere, and there's a lot going on off the court for us, as well. Delaware expressed an interest, and it's going to be sold out, and you want to reward areas that really love the game, and you want to go to places that they appreciate the game. And that's certainly the case why we're coming to Bridgeport. I think we have the best basketball fans in the country, the most knowledgeable and the most passionate.
And we're going to New York because it's Madison Square Garden and it's New York City. The people there are going to make sure that we get the kind of send-off that this team deserves.
It would be easier to stay in one place, and you could make a case for that's what we should do, but we're representing the U.S., and it's the people's game. So for us to take it to where the people are is a lot more rewarding than asking them to come to us.
Q. Coach, I wanted to ask about a recent article about yourself as far as looking ahead to what happens if Sue and Diana and Lindsay retire, at least don't play in the 2020 Olympics, and looking to the future. How important is this game against the select team to also kind of maybe even get a look at what the future could be as far as the person who's going to be the floor general?
GENO AURIEMMA: I think it's a process. It's a step in the process. You know, an awful lot of players were invited, and for lots of various reasons could not attend or chose not to attend. So this is a small sample of the young players. We tried to keep it at the players that were under five years in the league so we could identify who some of the best young players are, and some are injured and couldn't make it, and that's a -- it's great for the league that there's so many good young players that have been in the league for a short period of time.
I think 2018, I think the next two years between the Games in Rio and the World Championships in 2018 I think are going to be really, really important. I have no idea what Sue and Diana and Lindsay, what their plans are. They may want to play again, they may not. They may not be good enough, they might be; I don't know. But certainly the time is coming when there has to be an influx of young players like Stewie, like Tina Charles, like Maya Moore, like Elena Delle Donne.
These next two years those players are going to have to step up and commitment themselves and give the time and the effort and put themselves in a position to be on the team and do all the hard work that it takes to be on the Olympic team and not just show up and say I want to be an Olympian. You know, there's a lot of hard work that goes into this, and Sue and D and Lindsay and Tamika Catchings and Seimone Augustus, those players, they do everything that you ask them to do in non-Olympic years, and they grow, and they get better, and that's what's allowed us to dominate for the last two years.
So these next couple years are going to be really, really important to these young players, and I hope they take advantage of it.
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