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How did Whalen not make the Olympic team?

I thought it was a no-brainer that Lindsay Whalen would make the U.S. women's basketball team.

She's easily one of the best players in the WNBA: she's an MVP candidate and the leader of one of the best teams in the league.

Aside from outstanding statistics, there's the intangibles: she's tough, she's a winner, and she's a team player.

So why on earth was she left off the team?

I think the answer probably comes down to experience and the belief that they needed a complementary player off the bench.

Experience

The final three players supposedly selected -- Tamika Catchings, Kara Lawson, and DeLisha Milton-Jones -- all have more international experience with the U.S. team than Whalen. So that has to be part of the decision.

But my question is at what point do you bring new blood into the system? Couldn't Whalen have replaced Milton-Jones to give the team another point guard who can create for others in addition to Bird?

Complementary role players

The other thing they were probably looking for is role players who can come in and fit within a team concept. Perhaps they thought that Whalen was too much of a lead player to take a role on a team as a reserve. That might sound crazy, but I think it has already been well established that "all-star teams" are less competitive in international play.

However, if this was part of the reasoning, I'd have to disagree... from what I've seen Whalen is an amazing team player and one of the most versatile players in the league. She can do all the things you want a lead guard to do, plus she has range from the three point line, she rebounds, and she's just one of those players who seems to lay it all on the line every single play.

If I were putting together a team like this, I would absolutely want someone as versatile as Whalen coming off the bench... it just seems to make sense. It gives you flexibility in case a back court player gets tired or if the matchups demand a change of pace. I have no doubt that a player like Taurasi or Katie Smith can handle point guard duties as well, but Whalen is just a better distributor than either of them.

Oh well...

In the end, it's not a bad thing for the Sun at least, as Matt suggests on his Connecticut Sun blog:
For the Sun, it's probably a great thing she isn't going. That means every one of its players besides Erin Phillips (who is playing for Australia) will have the entire month to rest and recharge, similar to the 2004 Connecticut team that went on a tear to finish the regular season and reached the WNBA finals.
That's a pretty good point in my opinion.

But I still hope we'll eventually find out why Whalen was left off the team. I admit that I just like watching her play and am a little disappointed, but strategically, it's just puzzling.

And it also makes me wonder about what type of strategy they have in mind -- what kind of offense will they run and what will the rotation look like?

Relevant Links:

Whalen left off U.S. Olympic team
http://www.theday.com/re.aspx?re=5eb5bd22-2465-43d1-bbcd-313ff3fcfbae

Whalen An Alternate For Olympic Team
http://www.courant.com/services/newspaper/printedition/sports/hc-sun0711.artjul11,0,6413581.story

Transition Points:

Indeed, team chemistry was probably the key for Lawson's selection. From Lawson on USA Basketball.com:
"I have played with every single player on the team within the past year, with the exception of Tamika Catchings, who I played with in college...it was important because it allowed me to learn about the players I was playing with, develop a knowledge of their game and see how they fit with my game. It also gave us time to develop a sense of team chemistry and to get to know each other as people and our different personalities. I don’t think anything about the Olympics will be easy, so I can’t say it’s going to be easy in terms of when we gel."