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Ping Pong
  • Erica Blackburn

Women’s USA Basketball Focused on Team Chemistry Ahead of Tokyo Olympics

For the women’s Team USA basketball team, this year is unlike any other Olympic game run. Tokyo is in a state of emergency due to COVID-19 (Olympic organizers barring spectators from most events at the Games) and with the virus hitting close to home (Team USA’s guard Bradley Beal was deemed out of the Olympics after being placed in health and safety protocols), extreme measures must be made in order to ensure safety. But that’s not the only reason this team is unique.

The core group of women who were stalwarts on this team aren’t there. There’s fresh, hungry, new faces on the team who are excited to contribute and continue the winning legacy of Team USA. But success will only come if the women jell together, because the international competition will be steep and you can’t take any opponent lightly. Prep time, according to the U.S. Olympic Team head coach Dawn Staley, will be very important.

Staley also said in her post-practice video conference yesterday that the staff is keeping their eyes on the competition, such as Nigeria, but have other priorities right now.

'They [Nigeria] are in the back of my mind obviously because they’re in our pool. But what must happen before we even get there is we have to link up and have a connection on both sides of the ball,” said Staley. “We’ve got to work on ourselves before we start working on or worrying about what other teams are doing. I know we have a couple of exhibition games that will allow us to showcase and work towards being a complete team because we’re not there yet. But each and every day, we strive to get better and hopefully by the time we see those teams, we’ll be in a much better place.”

“We are aware of that [international teams competition level]. That’s why it’s very important for us to prep. We need prep time, we need practice time. I thought we had a really good practice today in which we cleaned up some things that gave us a little bit of trouble yesterday with the WNBA All-Star team.”

Guard Sue Bird mentioned how tough it is to bring 12 people together who are coming from different teams with different terminology and schemes and how imperative it is to get on the same page.

“We just took the time to be really detailed,” said Bird. “The coaches took the time to show us things in film, get on the court and show us different rotations. Different looks on offense. And that’s what good teams, teams with chemistry, have. They already have the rotations down. They already know who does what offensively and where they like the ball. That’s the chemistry part we always talk about with USA basketball, trying to put all that together in a matter of weeks. It’s always a challenge.”

And even with newcomers on board, the expectations are still sky high. Some of them have played in World Cups. Some have played around the USA Basketball culture over the past few years. But what Staley deems important for the newbies to do this year is continue what they have been doing: when your number is called, you perform.

“These are highly competitive, motivated women who just want to win, and what that looks like sometimes it's a little different, because all of them are their team's top scorers, top producers,” said Staley. “And when you come into a setting like USA Basketball, you tend to fall back on that, but you also tend to do as others are doing it, and that is whatever it takes for us to win. People have to step up and do, or step down to do, because you could play a much different role than you play on your WNBA team.”

With Tokyo on lockdown, the team won’t be able to go anywhere except practice. And their team chemistry will have to come in unique ways off the court. But the goal is still the goal. And that’s to win.

“We just look forward to continuing to get better each and every day,” said Staley. “That is our goal towards winning another gold medal.”

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