The most successful national team in the world gets back on the court Friday, even if the stakes are at their lowest.
Team USA takes the floor in the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers at the Entertainment Sports Arena in Washington D.C. Since the Americans won the gold medal at the 2020 Olympics, they already clinched a spot in the 2022 World Cup to be held in Sydney, Australia starting on Sept. 22. However, they still have to participate in a qualifying tournament, which gives some new players in the USA pool a chance to make their case for the national team later this year.
Of the 12 players on the Olympic roster a year ago, only three remain: Ariel Atkins, Chelsea Gray, and Jewell Loyd. Joining the holdovers are three players from the gold medal 3x3 team — Stefanie Dolson, Allisha Gray, and Kelsey Plum — as well as Dearica Hamby, Natasha Howard, Brionna Jones, Kayla McBride, Kelsey Mitchell, and Alyssa Thomas. It’s a young roster with the 30-year-old Howard as the elder stateswoman, and the squad is light on international experience. None of the new six have competed for the USA senior team in 5x5, and only Loyd and Plum remain from the 2018 World Cup team.
That newness (which extends to the coaching staff, now led by Cheryl Reeve in her first go-round as an international head coach) is a feature, not a bug, especially when wins and losses literally don’t matter. This is a chance to experiment.
The glut of 2s on the roster means the Americans can trot out three-guard lineups, and the spacing of Dolson and Howard at center could allow for five-out groups as well. The Americans don’t have to play bully ball like they have in the past with players such as Brittney Griner and Sylvia Fowles, but they can, given the size and post skills of Bri Jones and Dolson, among others.
Team USA by position
Point guards: Chelsea Gray, KelseyPlum
Shooting guards: Ariel Atkins, Jewell Loyd, Kayla McBride, Kelsey Mitchell
Small forwards: Allisha Gray
Power forwards: Dearica Hamby, Alyssa Thomas
Centers: Stefanie Dolson, Brionna Jones, Natasha Howard
The first opportunity to test out this new-look Team USA comes against Belgium tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET. The Cats won their first qualifying game against Puerto Rico 98-65 on Thursday, led by 26 points and 10 rebounds from Kyara Linskens and 19 points and seven assists from Emma Meesseman. The Americans will have home court and a rest advantage, but the Cats are an opponent they should take seriously, especially since Puerto Rico likely won’t provide nearly as stiff of a challenge on Saturday.
Group D: USA (0-0) vs. Belgium (1-0)
When: Friday, Feb. 11 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C.
How to watch/listen: LBTV, YouTube.com/FIBA
Player to watch: Ariel Atkins. Atkins only got to play 33 minutes in five games at the Olympics. But now she’s a (relative) veteran, and this is her court. Expect the Washington Mystic to have a strong performance fueled by the home crowd.