A pair of Olympic gold medalists, Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) and DeLisha Milton-Jones (Los Angeles Sparks), along with Kara Lawson (Sacramento Monarchs), were named today by USA Basketball to the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team. The trio round out the official 12-member USA roster that will head to Beijing in hopes of defending the USA's string of three consecutive Olympic gold medals. Selections were made by the USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team Committee, chaired by WNBA chief of basketball operations and player relations Reneé Brown.
"The committee had a difficult time with these final three names because of the level of talent in our pool," said Brown. "However, ultimately we feel that the experience and leadership that we've added to the team in Tamika Catchings, DeLisha Milton-Jones and Kara Lawson are the final pieces to this puzzle. Tamika and DeLisha both know what it takes to be Olympic champions and will help this team defensively. Kara is a tremendous team player who made the most of her opportunities during the FIBA Americas Championship and over the past year has proven herself as a member of this team."
"I'm thrilled that Tamika, DeLisha and Kara have been added to the team," said USA head coach Anne Donovan, a three-time Olympian. "Tamika is such a complete player and a tenacious defender who will add much to our already strong Olympic team. DeLisha's international and Olympic experience is sure to further fortify our inside game. I'm also pleased with the addition of Kara Lawson. Kara's extensive experience training with the national team these last several years has made her a perfect selection for our team. She understands the game and her teammates so well that it's like having another coach on the floor. All three of these athletes, along with the rest of the team, are comfortable with each other on the court, and know the system that we plan to utilize in Beijing. I'm excited about getting this team together at the end of this month and really focusing on our goal, which of course, is winning the gold medal."
The first nine members were named to the U.S. squad on May 31, 2008, and include three-time Olympic gold medalist Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles Sparks); two-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Smith (Detroit Shock); 2004 Olympic gold medalists Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) and Tina Thompson (Houston Comets); and Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx), Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky), Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) and Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix Mercury), who will participate in their first Olympic Games this summer.
A 2004 Olympic and 2002 World Championship gold medalist, Catchings was named to her first USA Basketball team in 1996 while still in high school. She has also helped U.S. teams capture gold medals at the 2002 Opals World Challenge, 1998 R. William Jones Cup and 1997 FIBA Junior World Championship, silver at the 1997 COPABA Junior World Championship Qualifying Tournament and bronze at the 2006 FIBA World Championship. She last donned a USA Basketball jersey during the USA Women's National Team's 2007 Tour of Italy and helped the U.S. post a 4-0 slate, while averaging team highs of 12.8 ppg. and 9.0 rpg.
Lawson, who has plenty of international experience, will be participating in her first Olympic Games this summer. Added to the 2007-08 USA National Team roster on Sept. 7, 2007, she helped the United States capture the gold medal and its Olympic berth at the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship. Lawson's first foray into the international game came a decade ago as a member of the 1998 USA World Youth Games Team that returned with the bronze medal. She returned in 2001 to claim gold as a member of the USA World University Games Team and also won a silver medal with the USA Select Team that competed in the 2007 FIBA World League Tournament.
No stranger to USA Basketball, Milton-Jones has helped USA teams capture gold at eight tournaments, including the 2000 Olympic Games and 1998 and 2002 FIBA World Championship. She was also a member of the 2006 USA World Championship Team and earned gold at the 2002 Opals World Challenge, 1999 U.S. Olympic Cup, 1997 World University Games and the 1994 U.S. Olympic Festival. Additionally, Milton-Jones was slated to compete in the 2004 Olympics, but injured her knee and was unable to compete.
FIBA conducted the draw to determine the Olympic preliminary round pools and schedule on April 26 in Beijing. The U.S. women were selected for Group B, as were host China, Czech Republic, Mali, New Zealand and Spain; while Group A features 2006 FIBA world champion Australia, Belarus, Brazil, Latvia, Russia and South Korea.
Olympic women's basketball competition will be held Aug. 9-23. Preliminary play is scheduled for August 9, 11, 13, 15 and 17; quarterfinal action takes place Aug. 19; semifinal play is slated for Aug. 21; and the women's finals will be held Aug. 23.
The U.S. Women's Olympic Team opens Aug. 9 versus the Czech Republic, and next faces host China on Aug. 11, Mali on Aug. 13 and Spain on Aug. 15. The U.S. finishes off its preliminary play Aug. 17 against New Zealand.
The defending Olympic champs, the USA women in fact will be vying for a fourth consecutive Olympic gold. Since women's basketball was officially staged at the 1976 Olympics, the Americans have collected a record five gold medals, one silver and one bronze medal, while compiling a 42-3 (.933) overall record in seven Olympic appearances (the United States chose not to participate in the 1980 Olympic Games).
The 2007-08 USA Basketball Women's National Team participated in six different training camps, while the USA Select Team, featuring members of the USA National Team, competed in the 2007 FIBA World League Tournament. During the team's training the USA compiled a 25-2 mark against nine different national teams and five professional club teams, earned the gold medal at the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship and the silver medal at the 2008 Good Luck Beijing Tournament. Additionally, the USA Select Team posted a 3-2 slate, brought home the silver medal from the 2007 FIBA World League Tournament and notched victories against a pair of Russia's top professional teams and the defending Australia WNBL champs.
Donovan is being assisted on the sidelines by Mike Thibault, head coach of the WNBA Connecticut Sun and collegiate head coaches Gail Goestenkors of the University of Texas and the University of South Carolina's Dawn Staley.
In addition to Brown, the USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team Committee includes: athlete representatives Jennifer Azzi, a 1996 U.S. Olympic Team member, and Teresa Edwards, a five-time Olympian; New York Liberty President and General Manager Carol Blazejowski, Minnesota Lynx Chief Operating Officer Roger Griffith, Indiana Fever Chief Operating Officer and General Manager Kelly Krauskopf and Los Angeles Sparks General Manager Penny Toler serve as the WNBA representatives on the Committee; while University of Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt is the NCAA representative.
USA Basketball is the national governing body responsible for men's and women's basketball in the United States and is responsible for representing the USA in international competitions.
The selected players will be nominated to the United States Olympic Committee to participate in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
USA Basketball was able to catch up with Catchings and Lawson prior to the official announcement to get their reactions on making the team.
Tamika Catchings, Indiana Fever
You’ve worked so hard since September to rehab your injury and get back out on the court. Do you feel that your hours of hard work have finally paid off?
"It feels great to be back on the court. It’s like a long-awaited moment, being out there and being with my teammates. Throughout the whole process everybody’s been so supportive. It’s made things easier for me knowing that all of them are behind me and everyone wants to see me do well. Everybody wants me back on the court, that really helps."
What are your thoughts on this team, do you have everything you’ll need to win this summer?
"I do. I think it’s definitely a matter of time, getting everybody back out and gelling together. I feel like we have the opportunity. It’s going to take everyone coming together at the end of the month and everyone learning to play together again."
Does it help that at least most of you have all played together at one time or another in the past?
"I think that with all the different training periods we’ve had the opportunity to get to know each other on the court, with so many players coming in and out. But I definitely feel that once we get together, settle down, get some practices in, go over the plays, get some more review together, everybody will get more comfortable and figure out our roles for this team."
What do you think your role will be?
"Right now the thing that Anne has talked about is defense. Knowing what I brought to the table in 2004, that kind of defensive intensity. One of the things is, looking at the under-18 team here, the point guard and his story, I think he and I look at it from the same standpoint as far as figuring out what you can do for your team. Here, I need to play defense. We have enough scorers. That’s not to say I’m not looking at shooting at all but my focus is making sure that, from the defensive standpoint, I set the tone from the beginning of the game and everybody else follows from there. I think I can do that."
Tell me about some of your competition:
"The same as usual, Russia and Australia are always top contenders that we have to face. I don’t see that changing. But one of the things we all know is that more and more overseas teams are spending more time together. They’ve been training since 2004 for the 2008 Olympics. For them, there is more consistency. I think all of the teams we will go up against will be a lot better than they’ve been in the past."
Kara Lawson, Sacramento Monarchs
This will be your first Olympic Games. After helping the USA to qualify for the Olympics in Chile, how does it feel to make to back to the Olympics in Beijing?
"It’s a dream come true. Like most of the players on this National Team, I have been playing with USA Basketball since I was seventeen years old. When you begin playing on those junior teams, your ultimate goal is to make it to the Senior National Team and represent your country in the Olympics. For me this is the higher career achievement a player can garner because of the amount of respect I have for the history of USA Basketball and the opportunity to represent your country. This is the pinnacle. I am very grateful that the committee has given me the opportunity to help the team."
What was your initial reaction when you found out that you had made the 2008 U.S. Olympic team?
"I screamed out loud. It was unexpected because of the timing. I had no idea that, that particular phone call was going to be the one that told me I had made the team. But I stayed hopeful and I never tried to over-analyze anything. I felt that I had a pretty good year last year so I always felt there was a chance. I was hopeful, but you still never know. So when you finally get that call it’s validation for you as a player and as an athlete that you made it. It’s kind of like when a swimmer or a runner completes their event at the Olympic trials and finishes in the top three. You don’t know it until that moment, but that’s when you realize you have just qualified and that you are going to the Olympics. Now being a part of USA Basketball is different because we are a team; so instead of winning a race you just have to try your best and wait. But the moment is the same and the emotion is the same. It was like I had just won my race. So after I screamed, I cried. It was an emotional release for me and I was so happy and excited."
Did it feel like all the hard work you put in over the last couple years with the USA National Team was worth it? How much do you think your play during training camps this past year contributed to the selection?
"I definitely think the experience I had playing at a young age with USA Basketball when I was a senior and when I was in college, and then getting the opportunity to play with the National Team in 2006 when they were preparing for the World Championships has played a huge role in the selection. USA Basketball has played a big role in my development as a player because you learn so much from the other players around you. When I first came to play with the National Team I did my best to watch and learn from the veterans. There is a lot of knowledge and a lot of people there to help teach you and help you raise your bar. When you get to that point, you see how talented these players are and it makes you hungrier to get closer to their level and it also forces you to watch them and understand how they got there. My time with USA Basketball has allowed me to play with great players and see not only what it takes to get to that level, but more importantly, what it takes to sustain it for many years."
Even though the full team hasn't been together at one training camp, do you think it's going to be easy to come together at the end of July? How has the pre-Olympic training gone to this point?
"I have played with every single player on the team within the past year, with the exception of Tamika Catchings, who I played with in college. I feel comfortable as far as having that recall experience and knowing what it’s like to play with these players. My past year at training camp was invaluable for a number of reasons. First, I needed to earn my spot on the team. I was a player who needed to go through ever single training camp and work hard to earn my spot. Also, it was important because it allowed me to learn about the players I was playing with, develop a knowledge of their game and see how they fit with my game. It also gave us time to develop a sense of team chemistry and to get to know each other as people and our different personalities. I don’t think anything about the Olympics will be easy, so I can’t say it’s going to be easy in terms of when we gel. It’s going to be a great challenge because of all the talent we have. But I am confident that we will gel together and everyone will focus on our ultimate goal, which is winning the goal medal. When you have players who are as serious, talented and motivated as we are, I think that is a very good combination."
What do you consider to be your strengths? Describe your role on this team and how you see yourself fulfilling it.
"I think my strengths as a player are my competitiveness, my toughness and the energy that I bring to the team. I think I am a skilled player and I think I have a great work ethic. These are the things that I can control, and this is what I really tried to bring to training camp this last year: to be competitive in every drill and go out there in practice with the mindset of winning every drill; the aspect of mental toughness, pushing through when you are tired or even pushing through in the last seconds of practice or a game and knowing that you have to bring the energy, whether you are in the game or on the bench. Those are the things I hope to bring to this team: competitiveness, mental toughness, energy and work ethic."
Can you break down some of the USA’s competition? Who do you think will be the toughest test for the USA in Beijing? Is there any one particular team you are looking forward to playing?
"I think the teams that finished ahead of us in the World Championships, Australia and Russia, are the two teams that will pose the greatest challenge in Beijing. They have great players and great team chemistry. These are two teams that will have more preparation time as an actual team leading up to the Olympics. They have phenomenal players; a lot of players that we are used to playing against in the WNBA. Because they have a lot of WNBA players they also have a lot of players who are experienced in international competition. We had an opportunity to play against Australia and Russia in this last training session in Russia. Even though we didn’t play against the Russian National Team, a lot of the players who are now on the Russian National Team were on the two teams that we did play. And of course we are going to rely on our veterans a lot. We have a lot of players who have been to the Olympics before and understand what it takes. For those of us who are first-time Olympians, we are going to look to the veterans a lot to show us what it takes to win a gold medal."
Is there any added pressure or responsibility heading to Beijing after the loss to Russia at the Worlds?
"There is pressure every time you put on a USA Basketball uniform because everyone either expects you to win or is cheering for you to lose. We understand that. I think it is more motivation than pressure for our country, for us as players and for our program. It’s motivation to get the title back and prove that we are the best basketball team in the world. I think that is something that the veterans have talked about – when you have it for so long and then it is taken away from you, you can’t wait for the next chance to get it back."
Have you thought about what the Opening Ceremonies would be like - walking in with the rest of the Olympians from all over the world?
"That is one of the first things that popped into my head when they told me I had made the team; the first thought of course, was standing on the gold medal podium with my teammates. But the second thought was of being there with all the athletes from around the world at the Opening Ceremonies. I just took a second and allowed it to soak in and I thought about what it would be like to walk into that stadium behind your flag, listening to everyone cheer and knowing that everyone from around the world, no matter what country you live in, is probably watching you at that moment."
What are the team's objectives or goals, both on and off the court, for the Olympic Games in China?
"You always want to think about how you represent your country, both as an individual and as a team. For some people, this will be the first time they see USA Basketball play and it may even be their first opportunity to interact with Americans. Everyone has different stereotypes or views of different countries and cultures, so for us, it is important that we are the classiest team there. We have to respect our opponents, respect the game of basketball and play with a lot of effort so that people will really respect how much we care about the game and representing our country."