Barely a week after losing the 2010 National Championship game to the University of Connecticut last April, Stanford's Nneka Ogwumike and Kayla Pedersen found themselves in what might seem like a somewhat surreal situation.
The Cardinal stars suddenly found themselves practicing on UConn's home floor with UConn head coach Geno Auriemma as well the UConn assistant coaches Chris Dailey, Shea Ralph, and Marisa Moseley coaching them as members of a USA Select team of college players created to scrimmage against the USA National team in preparation for the World Championships.
But it was hardly the first time that USA Basketball has brought current members of two of the nation's top programs together.
Stanford's Kayla Pedersen and UConn's Maya Moore have spent three summers as teammates playing for USA Basketball. The senior forwards were members of a U-18 team in 2006, followed by a U-19 team, and then they were joined on a World University Games team by Stanford guard Jeanette Pohlen and UConn guard Tiffany Hayes in the summer of 2009.
And that is just the beginning of USA Basketball bringing the Stanford and UConn players together.
Nneka Ogwumike spent the summers of 2008 and 2009 playing with UConn guard Kelly Faris on U-18 and U-19 teams with Ogwumike leading both teams in scoring. Two other members of that U-18 team in 2008 were Stanford post players Joslyn Tinkle and Sarah Boothe.
Although this may be the first Stanford-UConn experience for the freshmen involved in today's game, several of them have also been teammates through USA Basketball. Stanford's freshman star Chiney Ogwumike, the younger sister of Nneka Ogwumike, spent last summer leading the U-18 team in scoring alongside UConn's two freshmen starters in guard Bria Hartley and center Stefanie Dolson. And all three will likely be spending next summer together competing for the U-19 World Championship.
Other players like UConn post players Heather Buck and Samarie Walker did not have a chance to win a gold medal on any of the previously mentioned teams, but they did attend USA trials in multiple summers. Buck didn't make the 2008 U-18 team or the 2009 U-19 team, but she was a teammate of Nneka Ogwumike and Sarah Boothe on a USA Basketball Youth Developmental Festival team in the summer of 2007. Walker tried out for both the 2009 U-19 team as the youngest player invited and last summer's U-18 team that Stanford freshman guard Sara James also tried out for.
Looking at the history of USA Basketball's developmental teams over the last five years it is easy to understand why both of these teams have been to three consecutive Final Fours. Only one team's players have been able to experience winning a national championship, but five current Stanford players and five current UConn players have been been able to experience winning a gold medal in international competition. And they have experienced winning those gold medals together.
Tonight is a game between two teams that not only know each other as opponents, but as teammates.