The U.S. Women’s National Team’s quest for an unprecedented sixth straight gold medal begins on Sunday, when the star-studded roster gathers for training camp in Storrs, Conn.
WNBA.com and @WNBA will be on the scene at the University of Connecticut during the team’s final camp before regrouping for this summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. (Sixteen players are expected to be in attendance as the other nine compete overseas.)
What’s on the radar at this minicamp, which runs through Tuesday, and what will be at stake in August come Olympic time?
Here are five things you need to know.
The stars are aligning for a sixth straight gold medal.
It’s a rare treat to see this much star power on the court at the same time, let alone wearing the same uniform. But over the years, Team USA fans have gotten used to seeing just that very thing every other year. What’s different this time? As the WNBA’s 20th anniversary approaches, this year’s roster features multiple generations of WNBA stars.
On one hand, Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi have carried WNBA franchises for a decade-plus and have a fourth gold medal in their sights. On the other, the next wave of franchise players — including the past two MVPs, Elena Delle Donne and Maya Moore — are making the transition from sidekicks to leading roles.
But it all adds up to one simple fact: However the roster shakes out, Team USA will be heavy favorites come August.
Is Breanna Stewart next in line?
UConn and Team USA head coach Geno Auriemma will welcome WNBA stars to his home gym in the middle of yet another epic stretch of dominance for the Huskies. But much of the attention will be on the youngest player on the roster — the only player who has yet to make the jump to pro ball: Auriemma’s current superstar, Breanna Stewart.
Stewart was just six years old when Bird, Catchings and Taurasi captured their first gold medal. Now she will join them on the court just two months before the 2016 WNBA Draft, in which she is a near-lock to be selected with the Seattle Storm’s first overall pick.
Stewart steps away from the Huskies amid a 23-0 season and a 62-game winning streak. Next month, she will seek to become the first player to ever win four straight NCAA titles. How will the 21-year-old look in comparison to the veteran stars she will be joining in the WNBA come May?
The women’s national team has been historically dominant — to say the least.
Pick any statistic and it speaks to the extraordinary dominance the U.S. has over the rest of the world when it comes to women’s basketball.
Since the inception of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team program in 1995, USA owns an 86-1 record in international competition. The team is riding a 41-game winning streak overall and hasn’t lost since 1992, sporting a 58-3 all-time Olympic record.
It’s fitting that their next competition will come during the WNBA’s landmark 20th season; the success of the 1996 Olympic team that started this run built momentum toward launching the WNBA in the first place.
Tamika Catchings’ retirement tour commences.
The 2016 season will surely bring with it tribute after tribute to the retiring Fever great. But given that the 35-year-old Catchings will take the court at UConn for the first time since losing the epic 2015 WNBA Finals, USAB camp represents the unofficial start of her retirement tour.
So many players around the league admire Catchings and turn to her for leadership. That carries over into Olympic play especially, when her competitive fire and unselfish play make her the perfect leader of a star-studded team.
Who will make the cut?
The player selection committee faces the unenviable task of trimming the roster from 25 to 12 between now and the summer. That process will be fascinating to watch as the decorated crop of players battles for spots — something these players likely haven’t had to do since middle school, if ever.
How will the committee weigh youth versus experience? This camp will go a long way in determining which 12 players head to Rio to vie for another gold medal among a field of 12 countries (August 5-21).