The United States World University Games gold-medal winning team made it back on home soil from China Monday, fresh off their spoils of victory less than 48 hours ago. Sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogwimike tweeted about the excitement of being back. Skylar Diggins sent out pictures of the hardware earned after six wins and zero losses in the title run. Head coach Bill Fennelly chirped about being always connected by a gold medal despite everyone going their separate ways. That gold medal connection is felt throughout the women's basketball world, not just with this team but with the shared honor of other medalists in international competition.
WNBA rosters are dotted with high-profile players who've helped the United States to international acclaim, including 2005's gold-medal getters that boasted Cappie Pondexter, Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus and Candice Dupree. Kara Lawson was on the squad that brought home the 2001 victory to the United States and DeLisha Milton took home the top spot in 1997. Legends like Lisa Leslie and Dawn Staley played for new Naismith Hall of Famer Tara VanDerveer and alongside current assistant coach Suzie McConnell in 1991's gold-medal performance.
And we mustn't forget the star-studded 2009 winners, including current rookie Kayla Pedersen. She still remembers those times competing for her country vividly.
"It was amazing, we had a great team and it was a lot of fun," Pedersen said in Tulsa on Sunday night. "Representing the United States and just hearing your anthem - it all kind of hits you. It's not the Olympics, but it's kind of that version when you're young. It's a blessing to represent the country and come back with the gold."
The 2011 team had some more-than-familiar faces on the roster for Pedersen, as the Ogwumike sisters share the bond of the Stanford Cardinal along with their new affinity for the most precious of medals.
"I know they're going to do so much more than I ever did in college," Pedersen said of the pair with a smile beaming across her face, "so I'm just very proud of them and I love them to death."
Along with playing in international competition, leading a team as the head coach has left an everlasting impression on Fennelly.
"It's probably one of the greatest things of my professional career. I've always dreamed about coaching a USA team," he said in a press conference after the championship match in China. "To finish it the way we did was really special. It's better than I imagined. The journey was a great one.We had great people every single day. It's one of those things that I will always remember, in a lot of ways - more for what happened off the court and the way those young people came together. Everyone did what they needed to do, so it's a fun way to end."
Though she hasn't had specific experience in the World University Games per say, one of the most decorated female athletes of all time and current Chef de Mission for the 2012 US Olympic team expressed her pride in the team that represented the country in the games.
" I am excited that we won, I'm always excited when the USA does well anywhere in the world so that was really the best news I heard today," Teresa Edwards said on Sunday. She went on to talk about the readiness that competitions such as this brings players as they prepare for their final years of college and the potential transition to professional basketball.
"It's preparation to a point where you have an opportunity to be a part of the next level, but it's not specifically pro preparation," Edwards said of the international competition "I think it's a whole other level. They're playing amongst their peers and when you get here you're playing amongst veteran players, you're playing against women that aren't trying to allow you to get their spot. But you can't help but see them and be proud."
Pedersen, still in the midst of the college-to-pro transition thinks the experience of the World University Games was a great stepping stone up the basketball ladder.
"It made a huge impact on me," Pedersen said of her growth during and now after the Games. "I think playing against the best players in the country that are on your team that you're competing against every single day, and then you bring in other players from the whole entire world. That level of competition 24/7 is going to make you a better player and a person."
In the victorious 2011 campaign Elena Delle Donne, a junior from Delaware, was one of the mainstays of scoring, rebounding and overall leadership on the court, providing a team-best in points and boards in the tournament. Delle Donne summed up her experience as such, "This has been a journey of a lifetime, and as coach said to us, ‘this hasn't been just a three-month experience, it started from when we were young little girls growing up, dreaming of a moment like this.' So, it's incredible. I'm actually speechless."
Congratulations to the 12 women who just might be toting around a gold medal on their first day of classes in the 2011-12 collegiate school year across the nation's campuses of Tennessee, Baylor, Stanford, Notre Dame, Maryland, DePaul, USC and Delaware.
And welcome to the top of the podium.