Before the exhibition games, which sandwiched a training camp in Atlanta, we analyzed the impact players’ performances in the games and camp would—and would not—have on the 12-player roster selected to represent Team USA at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
The absence of five of the best players in the national team pool—A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Alyssa Thomas, Chelsea Gray and Jewell Loyd—limits the value of the recent games and camp. Because those players likely will be central to Team USA’s Olympic approach, rounding out the roster with players that complement that quintet should be the top priority of head coach Cheryl Reeve and Women’s National Team Director Briana Weiss. It’s a bit hard to put all the pieces together without all parties present. As Reeve said after the game against Duke:
We rarely have maybe what will be the final 12 all together for a variety of reasons but each time that we’re together, it’s helpful to see different combinations of players, different skill sets of players. This is a difficult task for the selection committee because there’s a lot of good players in our league and there’s a variety of reasons why you’d want each of them to be on the team, but they’ll be just 12 and these types of events that we do together the training that we’ve done for the last 12 days it all goes a long way towards our ultimate goal.
Despite this less-than-ideal scenario, the events still provided some insight into the players Reeve sees as potential assets to the Americans’ quest for an eighth-straight gold. In her postgame comments, she cited defense and transition offense as priorities for her team. Four players in particular—Kahleah Copper, Betnijah Laney, Jackie Young and Allisha Gray—seem to fit Reeve’s vision. They also appeared to strengthen their cases for the final Olympic squad across the two games.
While all four had the advantage of playing in both exhibition games, they made the most of their double opportunities, exhibiting the attentiveness, energy and reliability required to wear red, white and blue.
The Chicago Sky star, coming off three-consecutive All-Star berths to go with her 2021 WNBA Finals MVP, started both exhibition games, showing off the combination of speed and shooting that adds value to any team. After contributing 12 points, four rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals in 24 minutes against Tennessee, Copper caught fire against Duke, going 4-for-5 from behind the arc on her way to a game-high 21 points in less than 17 minutes of action.
A member of the 2022 FIBA World Cup champion squad, Copper averaged 18.5 minutes per game across six games in Australia, scoring 9.5 points per game. She also averaged over a steal per contest.
An essential member of the New York Liberty with a pair of All-Defensive honors to her name, Laney also started both exhibition affairs, indicating Reeve’s confidence in her contributions. In Knoxville, she notched a team-high 14 points, shooting an efficient 6-for-8 from the field as she also grabbed five boards in 24 minutes of play. Against Duke, Laney’s scoring output was more modest, as she totaled six points and six boards in just over 17 minutes.
Laney likewise was a member of the 2022 World Cup team, averaging 15.2 minutes per game as she played in all eight games Down Under.
Betnijah returns to the #USABWNT for November exhibitions!— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) November 3, 2023
Catch @BetnijahLaney in action against @LadyVol_Hoops (11/5, 6 pm ET, SEC Network) & @DukeWBB (11/12, 12 pm ET, ACC Network Extra) pic.twitter.com/nfZii9XouZ
Now a two-time WNBA champion with the Las Vegas Aces who earned a 3x3 gold medal at the 2021 Olympics, Young should have the opportunity to add a 5x5 gold to her growing trophy case. She played 20 minutes off the bench against Tennessee, flashing the two-way versatility that fits with Team USA. She used her superior strength and ever-improving aggression to earn seven free throws. While totaling 13 points, she also tallied six assists and three steals. Young then got the start against Duke, with a quieter statistical impact in her almost 20 minutes of play.
After the Duke game, Gray, a 3x3 gold medalist with Young in 2021, shared:
With Team USA, everybody can score, so it’s a thing where you just have to find something that helps you stand out. For me, it’s just doing the small things, playing defense, grabbing rebounds and defense creates your offense. That’s the biggest thing for me, just finding things to do to help the team out.
The Atlanta Dream guard who received her first All-Star nod in 2023 succeeded in “stand[ing] out” and “help[ing] the team out” in both Knoxville and Durham, even as she came off the bench in both contests. After scoring nine points behind a pair of 3s in 17 minutes against Tennessee, Gray was everywhere in her more than 28 minutes against Duke, earning a 16-point and 10-rebound double-double. She also swiped a trio of steals.
Months remain before 12 players will be selected for Paris. In addition to the difficulty of narrowing a surfeit of super-talented players to a final dozen, the politics that often appear to infect USA Basketball—with preferential treatment given due to collegiate affiliations, shoe endorsements or other factors—further complicate the selection process.
In spite of all that, Copper, Laney, Young and Gray have thus far proven to be strong candidates for a passport to Paris.