RIO DE JANIERO — Is it any coincidence that the dominance of the U.S. women’s basketball program parallels the dominance of the UConn program?
Here’s the thing you notice about the U.S. women’s teams here, seemingly across the board — when they’ve won, they haven’t just squeaked by — they’ve lorded (ladied?) over their competitors.
Katie Ledecky — she of the four gold medals, including the one earned for going all Secretariat on the world in the 800 meter freestyle, along with a silver — Lilly King and Simone Manuel led a U.S. smackdown of their opponents, both in the pool and at the press conferences
GameTime: U.S. National Women’s Team
NBA TV’s Kristen Ledlow and Dennis Scott speak on the U.S. Women’s National Team as the bring their record to 2-0 in Rio.
On the mat, three-time gold medalist Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and their “Final Five” gymnastics teammates obliterated the competition, winning the team all-around by a ridiculous 8.2 points over second-place Russia. The U.S. women’s eight has won everything in rowing for a decade, including a third straight gold medal here, and every world championship since 1996.
And, as ever — ever since 2006, anyway — the U.S. women’s basketball team keeps rolling over the world.
The U.S. team won its 45th straight Olympic game on Sunday, edging China 105-62 to finish play in Group B with a 5-0 record. They have won those five games — Senegal, Spain, Serbia, Canada and China — by an average of 40.8 points per game. Their closest game was their 26-point win over Serbia.
There are no outliers here, only sustained poundings. The U.S. program remains in complete control at nearly every level of organized basketball around the world.
The national team has not lost an Olympic basketball game since 1992, when it was beaten by the Unified Team and had to settle for the bronze medal. (I know. I was there, in Barcelona, when they lost. I wrote for something called a “newspaper” then.) They have not lost a game of any kind since 2006, when they lost to Russia in the semifinals of the World Championships, and also got the bronze.
GameTime: U.S. National Women’s Team Practice
Kristen Ledlow and Dennis Scott take a look at the U.S. Women’s National team’s practice in Rio.
The Under-19 team is the six-time defending gold medalist in the World Championships, not having lost since 2001.
The Under-18 team is the seven-time defending gold medalist; its last loss in international competition was in 1996.
The Under-17 team is 23-0 since international play began in that age group in 2010, having won all three FIBA World Championships.
The Under-16 team is the only U.S. women’s team that is not a defending champion, having lost for the first time in 20 games since 2009 in the semfinals of the Under-16 World Championships to Brazil in 2015. That followed U.S. championships in the tournament in 2009, 2011 and 2013.
That microscopic blemish is the only mark on the women’s program in almost two decades. A lot of great coaches and players on the senior team — Anne Donovan and Van Chancellor and Nell Fortner and Tara VanDerveer, and Lisa Leslie and Teresa Edwards and Katrina McLain, to name just a few — helped set the standards that are at the core of the team’s play today.
But the last couple of Olympic teams bear an unmistakable resemblance to the juggernaut that resides in Storrs, Conn.
USAB Arrives in Rio
The US Olympic Men’s and Women’s Basketball team arrives in Rio de Janeiro and prepares for the games to begin.
The one that has won four straight NCAA national championships, and 11 overall, tying it with the UCLA men’s teams heralded by John Wooden for the most Division I college titles in basketball history. The one with six undefeated seasons, including last season’s 38-0 mark, and the 40-0 team of 2013-14. The one that has gone 151-5 the last four seasons.
The one whose coach, Geno Auriemma, has been the U.S. women’s coach since 2009. He has yet to lose a game in international competition, with gold medals at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and at the 2012 Olympics in London.
The one which sports five former Huskies — Diana Taurasi. Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Tina Charles and Breanna Stewart — on the current Olympic team. Stewart is a WNBA rookie with the Seattle Storm, coming off those four straight NCAA titles, four Final Four Most Outstanding Player Awards and three straight consensus national Player of the Year Awards. The other former Huskies have combined for nine Olympic golds, nine World Cup golds, eight WNBA titles and three WNBA Most Valuable Player awards.
Sure seems familiar.
All-Access: US Women’s Olympic team vs. Australia
Behind the scenes as the US Women’s Olympic team wraps up their undefeated exhibition schedule with a 104-89 victory over Australia.
“I don’t know if they’re parallel, because I remember that ’96 team, and how great they were with Dawn (Staley), and Lisa,” Taurasi said last week. “But I think if there’s one thing that they do replicate is, like you said, whether you do win or lose, you play a certain way. And I think that Coach instilled that in me, ’cause obviously I played for him, and I think he’s put that in this team, too, the last two Olympics. Where you kind of block out everything, and you just worry about the 12 people in the locker room. And if you take care of what you have to take care of, nothing else matters.”
Like his UConn teams, Auriemma is giving this team freedom within structure, the ability to make decisions on the floor without having to look to the bench for guidance — a trust and respect earned that at both the collegiate and pro levels, and that cuts both ways.
“I always equate basketball, at this level, with this many good players, (it’s) like, when you’ve got a great jazz band,” Auriemma said. “And you’ve got four guys in the band, let’s say. And all four of those guys can be great on their own. And I love jazz. You go to a concert. And all four of those guys, if you close your eyes, they sound seamless. And then all of a sudden, one guy is highlighted. And then, it’s seamless. And then another guy is highlighted. And then it’s seamless. But one guy doesn’t step out there and do his thing, and to hell with the other guys. And I think that’s what great basketball should be like.”
There is more give and less take from Auriemma at this level, his players no longer his recruits, but grown women with their own track records of excellence as pros.
“He just wants us to make good basketball decisions,” Moore said. “He gives us the freedom to make those decisions, and make those mistakes. But he doesn’t want us to, he doesn’t want to coach effort, and focus. Those are things we have to bring…other than that, he does give us the freedom. And it’s fun. It teaches you to walk on your own. We don’t have to constantly look back to him.”
Taurasi’s leadership and production — she leads the team in scoring through Group play at 14.2 points per game — are always the lodestar. But it’s hard to image the tam without Bird, too. She is by far the best point guard on any U.S. basketball roster here, with a preposterous assist-turnover ratio of 10/1 (30 assists, 3 turnovers).
In the midst of this run, the team is transitioning. Taurasi — “the best player I’ve ever coached,” Auriemma said — and Bird are certainly on their final Olympic teams, as is Tamika Catchings. The future belongs to Elena Delle Donne, Britney Griner and Stewart, with Moore and Angel McCoughtry and Charles straddling the lines.
In London, “I was the baby of the team,” Moore said. “Lindsey (Whalen) was also a first-timer. But you feel the balance coming. You can feel the shift coming. It’s going to be different. But it’s not here yet. We’re still enjoying them, what they bring. On the court, off the court, they’re always engaged in something to bring the team together.”
Nobody is going to beat this team in the medal round, unless it gets lost on Mount Corcovado to see the Redeemer Statue. (Oh. Dang.
And, no, it’s not boring to watch a team at the height of its powers thrash all challengers into submission — unless you didn’t like The University of Iowa’s wrestling, and Wooden’s Bruins, or Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers. Or, Goldberg.
It is not the responsibility of Auriemma or his former players to reach down. It is the responsibility of the world’s opponents to reach up, and try to meet the path where basketball’s most dominant top to bottom program treads.
“The way that the University of Connecticut produces great pros is just phenomenal,” Moore said. “It’s a testament to the coaching staff and to the players that come there and work and learn and develop, and be leaders, and be unselfish in the way you lay the game, and approach the game. It’s an art. It’s a lifestyle. You can see that. So it’s not a surprise that a lot of UConn players comprise the teams, the national teams over the years, and hopefully, that culture. There’s bits and pieces that layers of our (Olympic) culture that other players bring, of course. It’s not only at Connecticut. But I think when you have such a rich experience year after year after year, generation after generation, it just creates a really fluid, fun consistency, that’s really hard to do. But it’s being done, and it’s fun to watch and be a part of it.”
… AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER
On the NBA And HB2, Part 1. From Steve Staedtler:
The law in North Carolina now is no different than when Silver first signed up for the All-Star Game there. Yet Silver is OK with games in China, with deplorable human rights records, but Charlotte must be boycotted? NBA fans and all sports fans watch sports as a diversion from politics. But this is the second time Silver has jumped into politics, the first when he gave NBA money to LGBT groups for selling Jason Collins jerseys. Imagine if Silver had boycotted over religious freedom laws instead? People would be in an uproar.
Most of the liberal groups haven’t even read the transgender bill or understand it, but the fact is, sports groups should not get involved in politics. Especially when nearly 2/3 of school parents oppose Obama’s bathroom bill and he is being sued by 21 states. I watch sports a distraction from everyday life and the NBA is dragging people into it. I don’t know if I can seriously watch again.
You are not the first to raise the issue of China, Steve, and it’s a fair one. I would only say the likelihood of a U.S.-based business being able to coerce the government of Communist China to change how it treats its citizens is remote in the extreme, so it would be kind of naïve to believe the NBA could affect that kind of change by threatening to take its regular season games out of the country. The words you use suggest a certain bent with regard to certain issues; I am guessing you are not a liberal where these things are concerned.
Your choice not to watch games because of decisions made off the court is, of course, your right.
On the NBA and HB2, Part 2. From Troy Dantz:
I’m hoping you have the ability to start a conversation I have yet to hear about, which is whether the NBA would look to use its influence to help stop the epidemic of men of color dying at the hands of police, as well as the gun laws that continue to provide a context for our communities to be ravaged by violence.
While I don’t want to marginalize the opposition to HB2, and admittedly I am not as fully versed in the parameters of the law as I need to be, in order to have a stronger opinion about the NBA’s stance on this issue; most of the rhetoric has seemed to be pretty one-sided and in alignment with opposition to the new law, although I’m sure there are probably many voices in favor of it. As an African American man who is opposed to discrimination on any level, I would just like to see a balance of attention devoted by the league to other social causes, which can arguably be deemed just as (if not more) important than HB2.
In addition, since African Americans make up the vast majority of the NBA’s product-based talent, it would seem that they would be equally willing to use their economic influence to publicly push the agenda of implementing change in the area of gun control and police brutality as well. Interested in the conversation, and your thoughts on the matter.
I do not speak for the NBA on this or any other matter, Troy. It would seem to me, though, that it would be much more difficult for the league to set itself up as having the ability to help stop something as ingrained and as difficult to impede as the hundreds of police-involved shootings nationwide, focusing as you say on people of color. That is not a one-off, as the league’s participation in an All-Star Weekend is in a given year. The league knows how to put on an All-Star Weekend, and can do it in any city that has enough convention and hotel space. It is not versed in how to change the behaviors of cops around the country. What influence would the league have even if it wanted to take on such an endeavor? What carrot and/or stick at its disposal would have any impact? (And, it should be said, the NBA’s security department is comprised of a lot of former cops, as are the security departments of most of its teams.) There are things that are beyond a sports league’s purview. Picking where to play an All-Star Game is not one of those.
On the NBA and HB2, Part 3. From Philip Jackson:
I agree that it is very sad that the NBA would be so heavily involved in social issues and PC nonsense that it would try to punish a city for not going along with what less than one–tenth of society want to participate in just to prove how misguided and morally bankrupt they are!
It is (a) shame that less than one-tenth of our country is forcing the league to have such a knee jerk reaction and to deprive the citizen(s) on our great state of having a great showcase even as the NBA All Star Game.
I won’t be watching the NBA all star game at all this year for this reason!!! Shame on them!
Uh…you’re not that Phil Jackson, are you?
1) Part Dolphin, Michael Phelps pulls off the folly that he is actually all human quite well. Congrats to the half-man/half-sea mammal, who won his 23rd gold medal in the Olympic Games Saturday night, swimming the third leg of the 4×100 relay for the U.S. men’s team. I am not a swimming historian, but if there is someone who has been better for longer than this homo sapien/fish, I don’t know of them.
2) But Katie Ledecky is sure putting a marker out there, winning by a preposterous 11.38 seconds in the 800-meter final, which is a second more than it takes Usain Bolt to run 100 meters. It’s ludicrous to win by that many seconds in an Olympic final. It’s ludicrous to win by that many seconds in a race to the corner with your third-grade friends. But the 19-year-old Ledecky Hoovered four golds and a silver in a week’s worth of dominance, setting two world records.
3) And congrats as well to Simone Manuel. And Anthony Ervin. And Lilly King. And Ryan Murphy. And all of the 33 medal winners from USA swimming. That is as dominant a team performance in a single sport as I can remember in an Olympics. (I know there have been others. Please don’t write and tell me so, when I just said I know there have been others.)
4) Please keep the submissions coming for the Guest Tipper column!
I’ve received some great ones so far. Remember: it’s an essay about why you love the NBA, or basketball in general, and how it’s remained a part of your life over time. Maybe you still play in a rec league, or coach your daughter’s team, or have found a group of friends in a foreign city through your shared love of the Bulls. Just send it to [email protected]. The winner will get his or her column published as a Guest Morning Tip columnist while I’m on vacation.
1) It was good to see Pau Gasol bounce back Saturday with a big game for Spain, which is struggling toward the medal round here. He’s too great a player to struggle as much as he did earlier in the tournament.
2) Personally, I haven’t felt at all threatened so far here, in this beautiful city. But there’s way too much sketchy stuff going on to feel fully comfortable and safe. It is a shame, for this is such a beautiful city, and its people have been so proud to host the first Games ever in South America. There are numerous and real problems here and in this country, and those should not be swept under the rug.
While the frustration and anger that comes with living in horrific conditions is understandable, sticking people up isn’t going to get at the root of those problems.
3) You do not serve your team or your country well by sounding like a sore loser, Hope Solo.
BY THE NUMBERS
46 — NBA players participating for their various national teams at the Olympics, an all-time record.
$33,333,333 — Average salary for LeBron James the next three years, after he announced he was re-signing with the Cavaliers through 2019.
The deal will make James the highest-paid player in the league for the first time in his 13-year career.
180 — Days, from today, that we have to wait until Kevin Durant makes his return to Oklahoma City with his new team, the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors, according to the official 2016-17 schedule released last week, will be on national television 28 times next season, the most of any team in the league.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
–The Hawks’ team Twitter account (@ATLHawks), Thursday, 4:14 p.m., detailing their 2016-17 schedule. (Helpful explainer for the Emoji-challenged here
THEY SAID IT
“This might sound crazy to you. But life moves so fast in the NBA, sometimes we players don’t appreciate the little things. Let’s enjoy this wonderful French toast. Made-to-order omelets. Let’s eat these breakfast burritos. Let’s get some wins and let’s make history.”
“We did have a lot of injuries but there’s no excuse for me. I’ve got to get them playing more consistent basketball. We’ve got to be more consistent on a nightly basis and that’s on me.”
— Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, to CSN Chicago, on the challenges he faces entering his second season.
“Thirty years ago, that’s me. The attitude, trying to prove myself, showing so much passion for the game of basketball. You see it in his play. You can tell he loves the game, he plays it with energy and flair.”
— Michael Jordan, during an event last month in Las Vegas for a new Jordan Brand shoe, at which he compared himself to Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook during a promotional video. Westbrook told Complex.com’s Russ Bengtson that it was “crazy” to hear Jordan make that comparison.
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