Tarrytown, N.Y.— Not since 1992 has the U.S. women's basketball team experienced a loss in the Olympics. Its achievements can be attributed to its talented athletes throughout the years, but coaching is the backbone to success.
Two reigning champions that own the best winning percentage in their respective leagues will combine to make a strong force for Team USA.
Geno Auriemma, an 11-time NCAA women's basketball champion, is coaching his second Olympic team this summer. His first Olympics as head coach in 2012 resulted in the United States' seventh gold medal for the sport.
"They have their team they play for in the WNBA; they have their team overseas. They've got lots of stuff going on, but this is kind of like their home base. They know that they always have this. They really really enjoy playing with all the great players," said Auriemma.
After leading his UConn Huskies to its fourth straight title this past year, losing isn't in the vocabulary of Team USA's head coach. One of Auriemma's most recent players Breanna Stewart has been alongside him for the ride to Indianapolis and now to Rio.
"It's been unbelievable to be able to be playing under coach again. It's only been three months since I was with him and graduated UConn, but you miss it. It makes you realize how much you miss it, and I'm really trying to just take full advantage of what's going on," said Stewart.
Contrary to Stewart, who's playing in her first Olympic games, veteran Sue Bird is coming in with gold medals from 2004, 2008 and 2012. Not only is this another great experience for her career and one that not many can accomplish so many times, but it's the atmosphere that keeps her coming back.
"When [Auriemma] did decide to come back it was like, ‘alright we all want to have a really good experience.' We all want to obviously win a gold medal but also enjoy it at the same time. The mix of personalities so far, it's been good, and we've been having a lot of fun," said Bird.
While the WNBA is in intermission, Cheryl Reeve, the head coach of the Minnesota Lynx, will head to Rio with four of her own. Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles will be representing the WNBA's reigning champs on Team USA.
Reeve, a three-time WNBA champion and 2011 Coach of the Year, will take the Olympic stage for the first time in her career.
Maya Moore, who played for the Huskies and now the Lynx, took home the gold in 2012; however, this year marks the first time she'll play simultaneously for both her college and current head coach.
"Playing for both Coach Auriemma and Coach Reeve has been a blast," said Moore. "They're both very competitive, both very detailed oriented, but both enjoy the game, enjoy their teams, so I'm just getting double the coaching trouble here with having them both here."
While players were being interviewed during Saturday's team practice, a smile came across Moore's face as she watched Reeve take on Brittney Griner and Angel McCoughtry in a shooting competition.
"I think Cheryl is enjoying her assistant coaching part, making sure we're doing well and doing what we need to, but she can be more in the background joking around," said Moore.
Reeve didn't disagree. She acknowledged that being a part of this staff, especially with her four Lynx players, has made this experience more memorable.
"It's fun. When I had a chance to be a part of this staff I was just excited to share it with them. Those four have been really special to me and just to kind of see them in this environment on a world stage just to be up close and personal like this has been a lot of fun and really special," said Reeve.
Reeve does acknowledge that when the WNBA season starts back up, they won't be able to avoid heading back to their teams with valuable information. She said after spending an entire four to five weeks together they learn a lot about each other, but it comes down to who's going to play the hardest.
Tomorrow will be the last stop for Team USA on its Olympic tour, and they'll be sent off from the "World's Greatest Arena" Madison Square Garden. In a game against Australia at 4 P.M., the team will be tested against what Coach Auriemma assesses as the team that took Russia's place as the second best team in the world.
"You have two great minds when you put Coach Auriemma and Coach Reeve together. It's cool because one obviously does his thing in college and the other is more WNBA central, but when they come together, you can see it really meshes, and both of their minds are really displayed in our schemes," said Bird.