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USA BASKETBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE


February 13, 2012


Geno Auriemma

Carol Callan

Jim Tooley


THE MODERATOR:   Today we have Jim Tooley, the Executive Director and CEO of USA Basketball, and University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma on the call.  We'll get some brief remarks and then open it up to questions from the media.  We also have Carol Callan, who is the director of women's programs here at USA Basketball, who will also be available to answer any questions, should you have any of her.
So I'd like to go ahead and start off by introducing USA Basketball executive director, CEO Jim Tooley.
JIM TOOLEY:¬† Thank you for joining us today.¬† It's an exciting time for USA Basketball.¬† It's less than six months from the start of the Olympic Games in London.¬† It's my honor and privilege to announce these finalists today.¬† Our player selection committee had a tough time pairing the names down, and will have even a tougher task getting it down to the final 12‑person roster.
But the 21 finalists are:  Jayne Appel (San Antonio Silver Stars), Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx), Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), Rebekkah Brunson (Minnesota Lynx), Swin Cash (Chicago Sky), Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever), Tina Charles (Connecticut Sun), Candice Dupree (Phoenix Mercury), Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky), Brittney Griner (Baylor University), Lindsey Harding (Atlanta Dream), Asjha Jones (Connecticut Sun), Kara Lawson (Connecticut Sun), Angel McCoughtry (Atlanta Dream), Renee Montgomery (Connecticut Sun), Maya Moore (Minnesota Lynx), Candace Parker(Los Angeles Sparks), Cappie Pondexter (New York Liberty), Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury), Lindsay Whalen (Minnesota Lynx) and Sophia Young (San Antonio Silver Stars).
THE MODERATOR:  I'd like to introduce Geno Auriemma.  Some comments about you about the list of 21 finalists that remain in the mix for the Olympic team.
GENO AURIEMMA:  Well, thanks, Carol, and Jim and everyone on the call.  As Jim so aptly put it, very, very difficult to arrive at a finalist list when you're talking about USA Basketball.
Given the past and present success of the team, and their incredible accomplishments, both in World Championships and in gold medals won at the Olympics, there's a culture of winning.  There's a culture of excellence.  There is a commitment from the players that is unmatched anywhere else in the world.
And these 21 finalists I think represent the best of what the United States has to offer.  And there's some people on the list that are not on that list of 21 that could very easily be.  And as Jim also pointed out, getting from 21 to 12, is going to be very, very difficult, because whoever the final 12 are, very easily could change and have some miss out because of the depth and quality of play that exists.
So I'm excited.  I can't wait for us to get started.  I'm anxious to get the team down to 12.  I have not had a chance to coach an entire team.  We have done it a little bit here, a little bit there; the team that we brought to the World Championships was amazing, an incredible group of players and an incredible group of people.  I look forward to getting together with our team and our staff, and start putting the pieces together.  We are kind of at a disadvantage in that other teams have gotten their players, and we don't have the ability to do that.  So time is of the essence for us.
I know the players are anxious.  I hear from them a lot.  Wherever they are all over the world, I know that there's one thing on their mind.  And it's an Olympic year and there's a tremendous commitment to winning another gold medal.  So I'm honored and I'm thrilled and I'm anxious to be a part of this program.

Q.¬† Just wanted you to comment about‑‑ inaudible ‑‑ playing together and knowing each other so well, will that be a big advantage?
GENO AURIEMMA:  Well, Lindsay Whalen, Simeone Augustus and Maya Moore have all at one time or another been part of a World Championship team or the Olympic team.  So not only do they have some experience playing together, they also have USA Basketball Olympic and World Championship experience.  Rebekkah Brunson lives in Anaheim, but you know, your point about the familiarity is a good one.
I don't know how that translates into being on the team, but certainly, the fact that they know each other and have had experience and have had great success winning the WNBA Championship this year, I think it's an added bonus for them to be in that situation, no question about it.
And individually, you know, they are three great, great players, and great kids.  So, yeah, they have got a lot going for them.

Q.¬† I was wondering, I know the team will be selected, but you're playing with a team in Connecticut‑‑ if it's a real guard‑oriented team for USA Basketball, what are you looking for in that?
GENO AURIEMMA:  Well, I think if you look at the finalists, you know, I would rather not play an oriented team leaning in any one direction.  I think in order to win at that level, you've got to have all the answers to every question that's going to come up.
So the finalists, you know, with Jayne Appel, and Brittney Griner and Candace Parker, you have some tremendous‑‑ to not even talk about the other ones, Candace and Jones and Cash.¬† It's just going to be a matter of having to blend the two together.¬† I think it's real important that we get players that are very complementary, but we have not been able to answer every question.¬† Russia is one of the biggest teams in the world; Australia, as well.
So I don't know that we can just go out and say, we are going to run this as a guard‑dominated team.¬† Having said that, I think we have the best guards in the world.¬† We have the best guards and the best perimeter players in the world.
So, yeah, I think it's going to be the committee coming together and saying, okay, what combination of these players is of the best advantage to win.  And that would make me happy when you've got a lot of different ways that you can go.  So I feel pretty good about the flexibility and the versatility of this group.

Q.  You have everything you've been juggling with USA Basketball, I know you talked a lot about the whole certain compartmentalizing of the season, but you sound really excited about the Olympic team.  Is it fun to have both of those things going on in your mind as much as it also probably is draining a little bit?
GENO AURIEMMA:  Yeah, you know, it's fun, it's draining, it's exhausting, it's exciting, it's pressure.  It's all of the things that you would want.  And there's no way to get around it.
I mean, I don't go to practice or I don't go to work, and you kind of think about necessarily what I'm going to do with the Olympic team.  And I don't spend time when I'm with the national team players thinking about, you know, what am I going to do at UCONN.  Even though those things do happen, they are not conscious decisions by me.
You know, coaching my team is one thing here at Connecticut.  But, for me, such an incredible rush, and so exciting to be around the best players in the world, and to watch them execute and to watch them do the things that from a coaching standpoint, you just sometimes can only dream about.  It takes its toll, no question about it.  It's a long and growing experience.  I understand that.
We went to the World Championships and it's the most pressure, most tired, most exhausted I've ever been in a competition.
But I'm also more excited, and I think the energy level and the adrenaline, when it starts going, I think all of us are going to be swept up in it.

Q.  Some of the younger kids you have on the team, especially Brittney Griner, you've talked about her a lot in the past.  Seems like this is going to be a team that's a better fix with some younger kids and some veterans; is that something that you're excited about to have maybe potentially some fresher faces getting the Olympic experience?
GENO AURIEMMA:  Yeah, you know, I'm thinking back to Athens, and I remember when Sue and D and Swin and then Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus, all of a sudden they were coming along, and you had the veterans, Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson and DeLisha and Katie Smith, Sheryl Swoopes; so you had a real interesting combination there, young and old, older veterans.
Now, it's starting that process over again, you know with, Sue and Tamika Catchings and D and that group, Candace Parker.¬† They are not quite the veterans that those other guys were, but they have been to three Olympics already, or at least two‑‑ I'm sorry.¬† They have been through Athens and they have been through Beijing. ¬†So this will be their third Olympics that they make the team.
And then you have the new guys, this will be their first experience if they make the team, Maya Moore, Brittney Griner and Maya Moore and Tina Charles and the guys that played with them in the World Championship teams, Lindsay Whalen, Candice Dupree.  So there is a great mix, and I love that.  I love that.  Because you've got the veterans that you can count on that have been to that point, the gold medal stand, and you've got young guys, wide eyed, who are just, hey, help me win my first gold medal.
So I think it's a perfect combination for us.  We are not too old.  We are not too young.  We have got some in the middle.  And I love the makeup of the finalists, I really do.

Q.  Just in terms of the philosophy or philosophically, how would you define the type of player you want on the final roster?
GENO AURIEMMA:  I would say the same way I recruit at Connecticut.  We talk a lot about this with the selection committee and to me, when you're putting together a team like, this my first thing is you have to be unselfish.  You have to be someone that shares.  You have to be okay not being the center of attention.  You've got to understand that it's not about you, that it's about our team, it's about our country.  You've got to be all in in terms of what we need to win, not what you need to satisfy your ego.
So from a philosophical standpoint, and an intangible standpoint, those are the things that I value, and those are the things that they happen to be the things that USA Basketball values.
And then, you want kids that are very versatile, that are not limited to just one position that can do things to help your team in a variety of ways.  When we went to the World Championships years ago, that's exactly what we had.  We have players that can mix and match.  You can put them in different spots on the floor and they can defend different spots on the floor and they can score from different spots on the floor.
So to me, the more versatile our team is, the harder we are going to be to play against.  And I want players that are winners.  You know, I want players that have won championships whether it be in college, whether it be overseas, the WNBA, World Championships, Olympics, I want players that are used to winning, know what it takes to win, and are prepared to do whatever it takes.  So, in that respect, I'm just kind of doing what I do every day in Connecticut.

Q.  And the second question is, can someone play their way on to the team or off the team regarding their current form, against whatever idea you have right now in your head of what a final 12 might look like?
GENO AURIEMMA:  Well, see that's one of the difficult things facing our program.  You know, we have so little time together and we have tried our best to have some training camps, and we have tried our best to go on some tours, and we have given some people an opportunity to play their way into contention or play their way out of contention.
You know, what can be done between now and when the team is announced, I don't know.  I don't know.  I think at this point right now, I would think the committee would have a pretty good sense, based on the last couple of years, who is capable of doing what, who has done what, who has made a commitment to USA Basketball, and that's huge.  You know, have you been there when we've called you; were you there when we needed you; or are just hanging around waiting for the Olympics, because there's a lot that goes into this.
And you know, I think now we already know who can do what, what the talent level is.¬† Now it's just a matter I think of putting together the pieces so that they make a great‑looking puzzle.

Q.  Can you talk about the opportunity for Asjha Jones?  Of the former Connecticut players, of the finalists, she's the one that does not have a gold medal and this will probably be her one and only chance to get one.
GENO AURIEMMA:  Well, you know, Asjha Jones, obviously I'm bias.  Coaching her in college and watching her career, she's a consummate pro.  Asjha has been there and done that.  Some injuries have prevented her from doing all that she wanted to do for USA Basketball, but she was tremendous at the World Championships and helping us win.
I love Asjha and I love what she brings to teams.  Every team she's on, she brings a level of professionalism.  And you can't underestimate that.  And at the same time, I don't know that making the U.S. Olympic team is about sentiment.  I don't know.  I think it's about are you able to do the things that we need to help us win a gold medal.  If it was all about sentiment, I think we would just, you know, go in a different direction and just reward everybody who has ever needed a reward.
It's going to be a very, very difficult decision.  Getting down to 12 is going to be an arduous task, to say the least, and I'm not looking forward to being in that room when that decision is made, because it's going to be very, very difficult.  Some people are going to be left out that's going to break your heart to not have them on the team.
And I think Asjha and what she did at the World Championships, it certainly means a lot.  I'm just not in a position to say right now how much it means.  But she's one of my favorite players, no question about it.

Q.¬† Brittney being the only college player, how difficult will that be for a 21‑year‑old to mix in with the older players, and maybe what does she give you that some of the other players don't, and what do you see from Sophia on the Europe Tour?
GENO AURIEMMA:  Well, you know, young is just an age.  I remember when Sue and Diana and Swin were coming out of college, and they went and played in Athens, and they were really young.  And I remember the impact that they had, as did Candace Parker and Tamika Catchings.  Being young is an age; it's a number.
You know, Brittney Griner is young, but in some ways her game is a little bit older than she is.  The thing that's going to be a major issue is the lack of international experience that Brittney has.  So that's going to take some getting used to.  But she brings an element to any team that is impossible to find.  You don't just get players that are game changers like that.  I don't think anybody else in the world has anybody like Brittney Griner.
As far as Sophia Young, she came, she plays hard, she's a great, great human being.  She scores.  You know, she can do things around the basket that you wouldn't think she could do.  You know, I'm sure the people in San Antonio have seen her do that for, I don't know how many years, and she worked really hard to get her U.S. citizenship.
Sophia, it's really, really important for her to have this opportunity, and I'm glad that she does have the opportunity.  Again, I don't know what that means going forward, but she was very impressive on that European tour.

Q.  Talk about the emotions, you're so involved with this, but you also have several players getting this great honor, how would this be different if you were just not involved in the Olympics and how much pride are you feeling seeing them being among the top 21 finalists?
GENO AURIEMMA:  You're talking about my players?  I've got a very delicate situation here being the coach, because I'm trying to step away sometimes and look at it objectively and try to appreciate them as someone who is looking at it from the outside, and really be amazed at what they have done since they left UCONN and how happy I am for them and how proud I am of them and how they represented themselves and their families and University of Connecticut, and USA Basketball a lot of times.
So I try to look at it from that standpoint.  And then as a coach, I'm trying not to let it crowd my view, as looking at them any different than I look at any of the other kids that are candidates or finalists.
So I'm trying to do two things here.  I'm trying to look at them as a coach who has to evaluate the best that we have to offer, and then step back and say, wow, I can't believe that these guys have done what they have done.
The one thing that I'm proud of is if I step back and remove myself from the situation, I can honestly look at them and say, you know what, no matter who the coach was, these guys will be finalists.  They have earned it; they have proven it; they deserve it.

Q.  Can you just react to the hiring of Warde Manuel as the new AD at UCONN?
GENO AURIEMMA:¬† I heard about it yesterday, the same as everybody else, so I really don't‑‑ you know, I've not had a chance to speak with him.¬† I don't know him.¬† But from everything I hear, he's exactly what we need, and President Herbst and the committee or whoever made that decision, and I'm sure I'll get a chance to catch up with him at some point.¬† But right now that's all I know.

Q.  I was wondering what your thoughts are on Tamika Catchings last WNBA season she was injured and she's had a chance to rehab, but if you had any idea of what you feel like her health situation is.  And a completely different question, you've got a lot of potential different combinations you guys could have as your group of point guards, all of them I think very good.  But if you could maybe talk a little bit about the mix of point guards you might have.
GENO AURIEMMA:¬† We faced with situation with the World Championships.¬† Seimone Augustus was coming off a real serious injury and another health‑related injury.¬† And she couldn't play.¬† It was really difficult for her.¬† It was difficult for us, because I love her.¬† And she got healthy and went and had an incredible, incredible summer last summer.
Tamika is in that category of people that have won gold medals, won World Championships, won NCAA championships.  She wins; she knows how to win.  She's a great competitor.  I probably love her as a competitor more than any kid I've ever coached against.
I don't know what the status of her injury is.  I don't know what the status of her rehab is.  Our trainer, Ed Ryan, stays on top of those things, and I'm sure we'll get a full report when the time comes.
Again, you want to be healthy.  You want to be ready to go, and I hope it doesn't come down to a decision where we are guessing.  I hope we know for sure that Tamika is healthy and ready to play.  But I don't know that at this time.
As far as our point guards are concerned, we have the best point guard in the world, you know, and we start with that and that already gives us an advantage over most teams at that position; I would say every team at that position.  Me being biased or not biased, doesn't matter.  Everybody else thinks the same thing.
What we also have are other guards that complement our team and are completely different than Sue.  Cappie Pondexter does things that are completely different than Sue or any of these other guys.  Lindsay Whalen is completely different and played such a huge part in us winning the World Championships; was incredibly instrumental in us winning over there.
You know, I think that group, I don't know if I'm missing anybody, I'm trying to think back to who has been involved recently that I've had a chance to work with, but the experience factor that those players have, you're right.  You can play a lot of different ways.  You can use a lot of different combinations.
But our guard play, and I include in that the people that were at the World Championships, like Sue and Angel, and Tamika, Maya, just a phenomenal group that we have to choose from, and I'm excited about it.

Q.  What do you have planned in the next few months and a time frame for when the actual 12 are going to be announced?
CAROL CALLAN:  What we are looking at is we are trying to put together some training potentially in May.  We have been able to work with a couple of the WNBA teams to see if there's an opportunity during the preseason to put something together.
So given that scenario, we certainly don't want to pull players away from WNBA teams that would not be on the team.  So we are kind of targeting that time to make sure that we have an Olympic team together.  So sometime in the spring, is when we'll come up with the 12.  We definitely will have called in the Olympic replacement players from this group, and then we'll then, when the WNBA breaks their season in July, we'll then gather again together to actually start our serious preparations for the Olympics.  So team selection, sometime in the spring, and training hopefully in May, as well as in July.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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