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Basketball - 29. July 2011.

USA - Auriemma counting on core group for Olympics

LONDON (Olympics) - USA Women's head coach Geno Auriemma hopes to have the core of the 2010 FIBA World Championship winning team at his disposal when the reigning Olympic champions look to make it five gold medals in a row at next year's Games in London.

Auriemma was in Puerto Montt, Chile, earlier this week to take in some of the action at the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women and he turned his attention to the Olympic Basketball Tournament which is now just a year away.

"I would like to think that the core of last year's team from the Czech Republic will be present in London," he told fiba.com.

"We've got a pool of about 20 players right now. Obviously the team that won the World Championship is a really good team and played exceptionally well for the entire tournament."

Back in the mix

The famed University of Connecticut head coach does however have two players in particular that he would like to bring back into the frame.

"(In the Czech Republic) we were missing a few key players from the 2008 Olympics team in Candace Parker and Cappie Pondexter," he recalled.

"Right now Candace Parker is injured and hopefully she will be healthy.

"I wouldn't mind taking the team we had at the World Championship. That was an excellent team but you know players like Candace Parker and Cappie Pondexter would make it so much better."

Auriemma expects to have a clearer picture of what his team might look like after they hold training camp this autumn, but knows that a number of obstacles still lay ahead.

"Who we might add I think will depend on the training camp we're going to have in October and then the availability of some players for next year," he said.

"We have to take who is available in this training camp.

"I know a lot of other countries where a lot of their players are skipping the WNBA next spring and in the early part of the summer to concentrate on the national team and the Olympics," Auriemma added.

"Our players aren't going to skip (the start of the WNBA season) and are going to have to play. We're going to have to name our team without really having a chance to bring everyone together in practice."

Having qualified automatically for the 2012 London Games by virtue of winning last year's FIBA World Championship for Women, the USA have this summer off, a good omen for one crucial reason according to Auriemma.

"We had a great run last year at the FIBA World Championship. We really wanted to win so that we didn't have to do anything this summer because it's so hard to get our players together due to the schedule," he explained.

Doing his homework

While he may not be pacing the sidelines, Auriemma has not taken the summer off. Instead he has been scouting the USA's potential opponents.

"I went to Poland to watch EuroBasket Women," he said. "It was interesting for me to see a team like Spain who everyone assumed would be one of the top teams in the world get knocked out and now they won't be able to qualify (for the Olympics).

"Then a team like Turkey who no one really gave a lot of recognition to going into the tournament now all of the sudden is the team that people are talking about."

Auriemma's trip also allowed him to get re-acquainted with one of the USA's arch-rivals.

"I saw Russia playing the best I've ever seen them play," he observed. "It was good for me to see that because you can go in thinking well they're struggling, they're not what they used to be. But when I saw them it reminded me of how good the Russian team is and how well their young players are playing right now. I'm glad I got to see them at their best.

"That's what I'm expecting them to be like at the Olympics. And the same with Australia. You know they're going to be there at the end. I was really surprised what happened to them at the World Championship."

Chasing history

In London, the Americans will look to win a fifth consecutive gold medal. If they succeed in accomplishing the feat, they will enter the record books in the women's basketball competition.

Only the USA men have done better, winning the first seven Olympic Basketball Tournaments in a row (from 1936 to 1968).

With so much at stake, veteran leadership will be at a premium.

USA stalwarts Lisa Leslie, Katie Smith and Tina Thompson all retired from international competition following the 2008 Olympics leaving a huge void, but USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley argues it has since been filled admirably by three players in particular.

"Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are great leaders along with Tamika Catchings," he said.

"Sue came (into the senior national team) in 2002 and Diana in 2004 and both of them had the chance to work with veterans like Dawn Staley and Teresa Edwards to gain experience. It's now their time to lead."

Privileged position

Auriemma, who coached both Bird and Taurasi in the collegiate ranks, believes that the USA could not ask for better leaders.

"I think we're in a unique situation that our oldest players are not that old if you look at Sue, Diana and Tamika," he argued.

"They're veterans and all three of them have won at least two Olympic gold medals and they're around 29-30 years old.

"They're just getting into the prime of their careers and they're looked upon as veterans which is really good because sometimes the veterans can't necessarily perform at the level that they have performed in the past. So I think we've got a great group there."

The USA will also welcome the fact that their young up-and-coming stars are hungry to add to their list of accomplishments on the international stage.

"Players like Angel McCoughtry and Maya Moore have never competed in the Olympics so they want to play and they want to win," Auriemma warned.

Looking ahead to a year from now, Auriemma can't be drawn into making predictions as to who will be the final four teams vying for Olympic gold.

"It used to be you could just write them down - here are the four teams in the Semi-Finals. Those days are over," he explained.

"I don't think that it was any big surprise that the USA were in the Final at last year's FIBA World Championship but it was a big surprise who we were playing and I think that this is going to happen more and more as these teams keep getting better and better.

"You almost have to watch everybody because you can't think anymore 'there's no way they can make it.'"



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