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Auriemma talks Rio prep, Parker's absence, Sparks' success

The Rio Olympics is just 11 days away from starting, For Team USA, they have eight practices to get the team chemistry clicking. The biggest factor is the the team has nine veterans on the team who know right now is practice it is time to get serious and find the best groups that gel together at any one time.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES, CA -- Despite a disproportionate lack of preparation time, the USA Basketball Women's National Team is not worried.

The team, led by nine Olympic veterans, including Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi, will rely heavily on experience and chemistry to take home its fifth straight Gold medal in Rio.

Most other countries have already spent several months training together, but today marks only the second practice for USA Basketball.

"Without the chemistry and familiarity, we would be in big trouble," Head Coach Geno Auriemma said. "We have eight days to prepare. Today's one of those eight days. If we had to start at the beginning, I don't know what we would do. They know we're limited with time, so when they show up, there's no nonsense and drama, it's all about getting the work done."

Bird agrees.

"We're doing all we can," Bird said of short practice time. "All you can do is come into practice everyday with the mindset of wanting to learn, wanting to get better, being focused, and then go from there. There's no way to speed up the process; you just want to make the most of the time you do have."

Joining Bird, Catchings and Taurasi are six other players from the 2012 Olympic team, including Minnesota Lynx' Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen; New York Liberty's Tina Charles and Atlanta Dream's Angel McCoughtry.

This familiarity combats the lack of time.

"I know so many of them," Auriemma said. "Nine of us have been together since 2008. There's a lot of familiarity between me and them and themselves. I don't have to say things 15 times to get my point across. They get it. We've got great leadership with Sue, Diana and Tamika, I mean, this is just an incredible group of veterans. They really set the tone, and I really lean on them a lot."

Bird echoed Auriemma.

"We've all played together before. Not only have we played together with USA Basketball, some of us play on WNBA teams together, some of us play on overseas teams together, and we all play against each other," she said.

"Even though I only play with Seimone on USA Basketball, I know what Seimone does; I know what she's good at. From a point guard standpoint, it's really helpful to have an understanding of your teammates."

Catchings said it is vital to rely on this understanding of one another.

"You have to rely on that," she said. "Having our core group is really important. We are able to start with that and build on that. We have a few new players coming in, but for the most part, having that core group that's been there through the Olympic Games and world championships is really important."

Newcomers Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart, from Chicago Sky, Phoenix Mercury, and Seattle Storm, respectively, add some freshness to the roster.

With such a stacked roster, the biggest challenge Auriemma noted was the insurance that there is no stepping on toes.

"The biggest challenge with all this talent is just getting in each other's way, which is not going to happen because they're so unselfish," he said. "They've accepted that whatever they do on their team in the pros, they may have to change that to fit what this team needs them to do."

"We all want to win Gold," Bird said. "We don't care who the leading scorer is, who the leading rebounder is, none of that. We don't care. We just want to win a Gold medal. When you have talented players playing in that selfless style, good things tend to happen."

The quick turnover time does have its advantages. Eight of the 12 players come fresh off their own Friday night WNBA games. As Bird explained, the players are all in peak-season shape, leaving more time to focus on the game.

"Yesterday was an interesting practice," she said. "It was a little bit of a day off. We went through some plays, we got some shots up, nothing too difficult. The coaching staff is aware that we are all in shape. This isn't about running up and down the court; it's about getting us together and learning about what we're going to be doing."

For today's practice, Auriemma said the team will focus on putting the puzzle pieces into place to find which groups works best together.

"It took us until the third game of the 2012 Olympics to find our rhythms and the groups that function best together," Auriemma said. "We're going to try really hard to get to that point as early as possible this year."

With Auriemma coming from the University of Connecticut, it's no surprise that there is a large Husky representation—five to be exact.

This does not come without controversy, however. Auriemma's roster does not include representation from the Los Angeles Sparks, the best team in the WNBA at 21-3. What is especially controversial is the exclusion of two-time Olympian Candace Parker.

"You know, that happens," Auriemma said when asked about the exclusion. "Obviously, they weren't the number one team in the league when the team was picked. They've earned that over the last couple of months. Let's put it this way: I'm not surprised by their success at all. I would venture to say there might not be anybody in the league playing better than Nneka Ogwumike is playing right now.

"But when these decisions are made, it's really, really difficult to project. What happens is when you look at our team now, and when you put them out here, I would challenge somebody to go, ‘You know what, you shouldn't be on the team and you should.'

"That's how difficult it is, whereas back in the day, we had trouble filling the team, and now you and I are talking about that there's a bunch of deserving players that could be on this team. This says a lot about how far we've come."

Catchings, who refers to Parker as her little sister, noted her disappointment.

"With Candace, it will fuel her, and you saw the way she started off the season, her and Nneka both. It's kind of like that extra motivation, and being able to be successful and take that frustration probably to a whole other level. I know Candace, and she is one of those premier players who will be successful no matter what."

The USA Basketball Women's National Team plays its first game together Monday at 7 p.m. PT for the 2016 USA Basketball Showcase presented by Verizon at University of Southern California's Galen Center. The USA National Team takes on the USA Select Team.

The exhibition game will be Live Streamed on USA Basketball and NBA Facebook pages.