Select Team

Inside The W with Michelle Smith

Jewell Loyd and Stefanie Dolson are getting some rare mid-summer time away from the daily travel-and-play grind of the WNBA season. The five-week Olympic break, that will end on August 24 with the first WNBA games back coming on August 26, presents an opportunity for some rest and recreation, time with family and friends and perhaps even a little vacation.

Dolson grabbed a few days away, while Loyd headed home to Chicago. But Loyd, the Seattle Storm’s stellar second-year guard, chuckled at the idea of “rest”.

“I’m always in the gym,” Loyd said. “I’m trying to win a gold medal in 2020. I can’t take a day off.”

Loyd has her Olympic goals in the forefront of her mind as the USA is currently in Rio on its quest for a sixth straight gold medal. When the team plays in Tokyo four years from now, Loyd wants to be there, dressed in her red, white and blue uniform.

It is Dolson’s long-term goal as well.

“I’m definitely aiming for 2020,” Dolson, the Mystics center said. “I’m going to compete and improve my game and get better and hopefully they choose me for that team. Because it’s always been a dream of mine to be in the Olympics. I want to be part of that experience.”

Dolson was a finalist for this year’s squad and a finalist for the 2014 World Championship team two years ago. Loyd was also a finalist in 2014.

Dolson, Loyd and a group of young WNBA players got a taste of the experience two weeks ago when they were selected to be a part of the USA Select Team, a team of 11 players who trained alongside the U.S. Women’s National Team in preparation for the Olympics and played against them in an exhibition game in Los Angeles on July 25.

And what a game it was.

The Select Team took U.S. Women’s National Team down to the wire before falling 88-84. It was an important first test for the U.S. team.

Loyd finished with 20 points. Natasha Howard led all scorers with 24. Dallas Wings guard Odyssey Sims – a member of the 2014 World Championship team – added 17 points. Dolson finished with three rebounds and three assists.

After the game, USA coach Geno Auriemma said how impressed he was with the Select Team.

“I thought the way the Select Team played was really cool,” Auriemma said. “They played as if they play against these guys all the time, which they do. There wasn’t going to be any sense of intimidation of who they are, which is why we play these games.

“And for the future of USA Basketball, there were some unbelievably positive signs out there of what the next group could potentially look like.”

It is an interesting question, what the next incarnation of the U.S. team might look like. The current team’s roster has only three players who will likely not be in the mix for the 2020 Games in Tamika Catchings, Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird. There are other veterans such as Lindsay Whalen (34 years old) and Seimone Augustus (32 years old) who might also be considered question marks four years from now.

And that doesn’t even take into account the absence of players like Candace Parker — who turned 30 in April — and Nneka Ogwumike, who many thought belonged on this 2016 team, but were not included this time around.

The nearly dozen or so players on this U.S. Select Team might, in reality, be competing for precious few spots. That is why showing well in this opportunity was so important to the Select Team players.

Loyd said the mentality of the Select team was to win.

“We gave them a good run,” Loyd said. ““It wasn’t until the last 1:30 that they got a steal and a score and were able to close it out. But we gave them a run for their money.”
Dolson said the Select Team members were chatting Auriemma before the game and he was complimenting them, and then added “You guys aren’t going to beat us.”

“That’s just him, always confident in his own team,” Dolson said. “But we were confident in ourselves and our confidence just grew throughout the game. We had nothing to lose. Jewel was killing it and (Natasha Howard) was killing it. It was really, really fun.”

Loyd said she relished the opportunity to play against the best team in the world, to spend much of the game guarding Diana Taurasi.

“I want to play against them because it makes me better,” Loyd said.

The Select Team roster also included Elizabeth Williams (Atlanta), Kahleah Cooper (Washington) Kelsey Bone (Phoenix), Tiffany Mitchell (Indiana), Sugar Rodgers (New York), Kiah Stokes (New York) and Ariel Powers (Dallas) – most of whom have had USA Basketball experience as young players.

Loyd and Dolson both understood that this opportunity was effectively an audition for the USA Basketball selection committee, coaches and team directors, who will be looking to infuse the 2020 team with young talent after the expected departure of 2016’s veteran stars.

“USA Basketball is not only picking the best players, they are looking for players who are a good fit for the team they are putting on the floor,” Dolson said. “You have to take advantage of the opportunity you have and make sure they see what you bring to the table. For me, I may not always be the top scorer, but I feel like I’m always in a good position, I have a great attitude, and I’m not going to have purple hair anymore, if that matters.”

Dolson laughs. She has been sporting purple hair since she joined the league two years ago, but she thinks its time to return to her natural color. Dolson said she just wants to “keep her name in the conversation” for USA Basketball.

“I love America and it would be an honor to play in the Olympics,” Dolson said. “I’m going to keep working toward it.”

Loyd is working on it right now.

“The things that motivate me are winning a championship and being on the Olympic team,” Loyd said. “It’s definitely been on list since I started playing basketball and I understood that I had a chance to play professionally and maybe someday, win a gold medal. I think to represent your country is one of the best goals you can have, so I’m going to work toward it every day.”

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith will have a weekly column on throughout the 2016 season.

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