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Hoops Happening: What a deep WNBA postseason run may mean for players who moonlight in the Team USA talent pool

Team USA tips off in friendly competition, tonight on NBA TV! This is today in women’s basketball for Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018!

Stefanie Dolson of the Chicago Sky (left) and A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces (right) are putting in work at the USA Women’s National Team training camp on the campus of the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC on Sept. 3, 2018.
Photo by Travis Bell/NBAE via Getty Images

The final four teams in the 2018 WNBA season battled it out through very physical Game 5 competition last night, leaving two teams standing, ready to duke it out for the right to be called the 2018 WNBA champion: Seattle Storm and Washington Mystics. If you just can’t wait for Game 1 of the WNBA Finals to tip off tomorrow, you’re in luck! The USA Women’s National Team is here to sate your deepest basketball desires, with three televised exhibition games starting tonight — Wednesday, Sept. 5.

What you need to know about the USA Women’s National Team

What is the USA Women’s National Team? The USA Women’s National Team (WNT or Team USA) represents the United States in international competition, and the team is governed by USA Basketball, which is “the recognized governing body for basketball in the U.S. by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).” USA Basketball is responsible for selecting and training the national teams, including USA WNT, which compete in FIBA-sponsored international events.

When does Team USA compete? The 2018 WNBA season was compressed (and, to some, it seemed downright frenzied) to accommodate the international commitments of the national team. Many of the women in the WNBA Semifinals, like Sue Bird, Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner, Tiffany Hayes, Jewell Loyd, Breanna Stewart, Diana Taurasi and Elizabeth Williams, also hold slots in the Women’s National Team talent pool. This year, Team USA is preparing for the 2018 FIBA World Cup, which will be held Sept. 22-30 in Tenerife, Spain. Although the next Summer Olympic Games isn’t until 2020, in Tokyo, Japan, what happens between now and then in international competition helps to determine Olympic seeding.

Who coaches Team USA? The USA Women’s National Team Head Coach is Dawn Staley, who is also head coach of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. Staley’s basketball offspring include A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces), Allisha Gray (Dallas Wings) and Tiffany Mitchell (Indiana Fever). Staley, a former college player and six-time WNBA All-Star, is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. Staley will be assisted by Dan Hughes (Seattle Storm — following the WNBA Finals), Cheryl Reeve (Minnesota Lynx) and Jennifer Rizzotti (George Washington University).

If so many players are still competing in the WNBA right now, who’s practicing and competing in exhibitions for Team USA? It is true — players who are still suiting up for their WNBA teams have missed the start of USA Women’s National Team practice, which began Sept. 3 in Columbia, South Carolina. But women’s basketball in this country is rife with more talent than there are WNBA roster spots, leaving plenty of other big-name players to hold things down with Team USA until a 2018 WNBA champion has been crowned.

Featured players on the Team USA roster include: Tina Charles (New York Liberty), Nneka Ogwumike (LA Sparks), Odyssey Sims (LA Sparks), Allisha Gray, Tiffany Mitchell, A’ja Wilson and Tyasha Harris (University of South Carolina).

Other players competing in practice and the forthcoming exhibition games include: Layshia Clarendon (Connecticut Sun), Napheesa Collier (University of Connecticut), Diamond DeShields (Chicago Sky), Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky), Ruthy Hebard (University of Oregon), Sabrina Ionescu (University of Oregon), Kelsey Mitchell (Indiana Fever), Arike Ogunbowale (University of Notre Dame), Kelsey Plum (Las Vegas Aces), Jessica Shepard (University of Notre Dame) and Morgan Tuck (Connecticut Sun).

So, some the WNBA’s biggest stars are going to jump from a deep postseason run to international competition with no time off?

Last night, Atlanta Dream and Phoenix Mercury players were relieved of their WNBA postseason duties after being handed losses by the Washington Mystics and Seattle Storm, respectively. Thus, it is possible that Griner, Hayes, Taurasi and Williams could join Team USA sooner than later, perhaps depending on health. But Bird, Delle Donne, Loyd and Stewart have their hands full for the next few weeks, at least.

And, if the WNBA Finals’ best-of-five, cross-country series between the Mystics and Storm runs five games, the title game will take place on Sunday, Sept. 16, leaving just under a week for players to get from Seattle to Spain. And by the time they arrive, the players would have missed out on a four-team preparatory tournament, with Team USA competing against Canada, France and Senegal, Sept. 15-17 in Antibes, France. Thus, USA Basketball stated in its press release that players currently competing in the WNBA Playoffs “may be added at a later date.”

Consequences to the Women’s National Team aside, such a tight turnaround would most likely compromise any WNBA championship celebration in the winning team’s city. If a celebration takes place within a week of the win, it is unlikely that the star players also occupying roster spots on Team USA would be able to attend. Can you imagine a celebration in Seattle without franchise players Bird and Stewart, or one in the nation’s capital without Delle Donne? If a celebration is delayed to allow all players to attend, the team runs the risk of fans not attending, if the postponement tips into another sports’ season, like college football’s.

Thus, a championship celebration may have to wait until the start of the 2019 WNBA season, keeping in mind that an invitation to the White House is also highly unlikely.

What this means for the players’ bodies, however, is very clear.

This schedule is an outright grind, especially considering that some players, like Brittney Griner, also had a long overseas championship season before the start of the 2018 WNBA season. Her Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, won the EuroLeague Women championship, delaying her arrival to the Phoenix Mercury. So, when players comment on the year-round competition, this is what they mean — overseas team play overlapping the WNBA season overlapping international competition (for those lucky enough to make deep trophy runs).

Although these elite athletes are professionals who know how to take care of their bodies, they are still humans who require rest and recovery between intense, competitive basketball seasons. Increasing WNBA salaries so that players do not also have to compete abroad would be an investment in player health. But since USA Basketball stated that the players currently in the playoffs may be added later, there is a chance, presumably, that they won’t be. Not adding them would provide needed rest for players, but not having any of those elite players in international competition does not bode well for Team USA. Bird and Taurasi, for example, each have four Olympic gold medals and, therefore, a ton of invaluable experience between them, with other players, like Griner and Stewart, also being gold medal winners.

How to watch the exhibitions

Three friendlies will be broadcast live on NBA TV this week! So for fans who need a fix on the WNBA Finals’ off days, the USA Women’s National Team has got you covered. Here’s the schedule:

Team USA’s Red vs. White Intrasquad Game

  • When: Wednesday, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. ET
  • Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, SC | TICKETS
  • How to watch: NBA TV, with Kara Lawson on the call

Team USA vs. Canada

  • When: Saturday, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. ET
  • Where: Webster Bank Arena, Bridgeport, CT | TICKETS
  • How to watch: NBA TV, with Ed Cohen on the call

Team USA vs. Japan

  • When: Monday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. ET
  • Where: Charles E. Smith Center, Washington, DC | TICKETS
  • How to watch: NBA TV, with Debbie Antonelli on the call

Next up in the WNBA

Game 1 of the WNBA Finals tips off on Friday Sept. 7 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPNews.

Stay tuned for previews and other Finals coverage!

Drink up, link lush!

  • Here are some notes and quotes from the Game 5s!
  • And ... there’s a first time for everything. For Diana Taurasi, she finally lost a winner-take-all contest after a stellar streak of 14 winner-take-all wins. Here’s a look at the loss (and the wins).
  • Outsports discusses the impact of the WNBA Finals being between teams led by two out superstars.
  • Candice Dupree has done a ton of good work in Indianapolis, and she has been reward with the WNBA Cares Community Assist Award. Did you know she’s an army brat?
  • Linnae Harper of the Chicago Sky hosted a back-to-school giveaway through an organization she founded for this purpose.
  • It’s great to hear some good news coming out of Chicago, considering the organization made yet another coaching change. With Amber Stocks out as head coach, who will be in? Also, perhaps the Chicago ownership group should look to the Washington Mystics and Mike Thibault as examples of a successful, slow build?
  • Miss the Dallas Wings? Three players will participate in Team USA activities. Hint: It’s not Liz Cambage; she’s an Aussie, competing in the FIBA World Cup for, er, Australia.
  • The Indiana Fever’s Team USA representation is the biologically unrelated Mitchell sisters. But their teammates, Natalie Achonwa and Kayla Alexander, have been invited to join the Canada National Team’s training camp.
  • Tina Charles is a veteran on the otherwise young USA Women’s National Team. She shared her thoughts after the first day of Team USA training camp.
  • A’ja Wilson has a website. More importantly, here’s a keen New York Times’ profile on Wilson.

How to #WatchThemWork during the 2018 WNBA Playoffs

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