US women's Olympic team soon to be unveiled

By Doug Feinberg

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 29 2012 2:40 a.m. MDT

Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma listens to a reporter's question during an NCAA college basketball news conference in Kingston, R.I., Monday, March 26, 2012. Connecticut is scheduled to play Kentucky in a women's NCAA tournament East Regional final college basketball game on Tuesday in Kingston.

Stephan Savoia, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

One of the hardest tasks for any coach is cutting players.

It's even more difficult when many of the players involved have helped you reach the pinnacle of your profession.

Fortunately for U.S. women's national basketball coach Geno Auriemma, those decisions are made by a five-member selection committee. Sure the UConn coach gives a lot of input on whom he would like on the Olympic team, but the committee has the final say.

Its choices for the 2012 Olympic team will be unveiled Friday at the NCAA women's Final Four in Denver.

"I think if the committee and the coach are working together it can be really good. There are some decisions that a coach is going to say 'I really want this kid on the team,'" Auriemma said. "Others where the committee says, 'For these particular picks we shouldn't leave it up to you since you're so close to the situation. We'll take it out of your hands for you.' When you have a lot of your former players involved you don't want to be making that call."

There's a chance that half this Olympic team could be former Huskies since six of the 21 finalists graduated from UConn. The 2010 world championship team that won a gold medal in the Czech Republic featured all six: Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Tina Charles, Swin Cash and Ashja Jones.

"This is a unique situation with several former UConn players in the mix here," USA Basketball executive director Jim Tooley said. "Having the committee in place is to protect the coach. The coach has a voice but no vote."

How unique is it? Since 1976, none of the Olympic coaches have had more than a few of their players on the squad.

"We heard a little about it in 2010," Tooley said. "They are all deserving people in the mix, not because our national team coach is their former coach."

Auriemma echoed Tooley's sentiment.

"When you look at the players involved, some of them are the best to ever play the game," he said. "Sue, Diana, Maya, Tina, if you leave them off, who are you going to put on instead? There are a lot of really good players who aren't going to make the Olympic team. There's nobody on the team that you're going to say they shouldn't be on it. It's an impossible situation. "

Choosing the team doesn't necessarily come down to selecting the best 12 players. It's more of who will be the right fit.

"Versatility is key," said national team director Carol Callan, who is also on the selection committee. "We've had teams where people would say how bout this person? They are better than someone on the team. This isn't an All-Star selection. This is a team that needs to go win against incredibly talented teams out there."

The system has worked well with the U.S. winning four straight Olympic gold medals.

Callan, who was has been with USA basketball since the late '80s, said that the women's selection committee process has evolved over the years. There used to be two different committees in the early '90s. One would decide on the coach of the team, the other would choose the players.

After the U.S won the gold in 1996, the selection process went to one 10-member committee because of the formation of the WNBA. It's been tweaked a few times over the years and was changed four years ago to its current five-member format. Besides Callan, the current committee is made up of Renee Brown, chief of basketball operations and player relations for the WNBA; Dan Hughes, head coach/general manager of the San Antonio Silver Stars; Kelly Krauskopf, chief operating officer/general manager of the Indiana Fever; and Teresa Edwards, athlete representative and five-time Olympian.

The women's selection process differs from the men's national team, which is chosen by team managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski.

"There's something to be said for the way Jerry Colangelo and Coach K have done it," Auriemma said. "From his perspective it's a privilege to play on this team, this is who I want on this team. At the same time I understand how that makes some people feel a little bit uneasy."

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