Five former UConn Huskies — Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Swin Cash, Maya Moore and Tina Charles — are on the team announced Friday. And all five helped the U.S. qualify for the Olympics by playing on the 2010 world championship team that won the gold medal.
"It's special because in 2010 when we won the world championship, that was a special team," said Cash, who won a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics but missed the 2008 Games because of injury. "We had great chemistry and obviously coach and his staff was a big part of that. He just makes it fun and enjoyable. So, I'm looking forward to finishing off my USA Basketball career with one of the coaches who helped get me here, from pushing me in college all those years and really giving me encouragement after that."
While Bird, Taurasi and Cash already have won Olympic gold medals, Charles and Moore are getting their first shot.
Auriemma gives a lot of input on whom he would like on the Olympic team, though a five-member selection committee has the final say. Still, it's very rare to have so many players playing for their former coach. How unique is it? Since 1976, none of the Olympic coaches has had more than a few of their players on the squad.
"What those players have done since they left Connecticut has been nothing short of remarkable, Auriemma said. "Not only that. They've been part of USA basketball since they were 14 years old. They deserve this honor. They' put a lot of time and effort into it. They've brought back gold medals everywhere they've been. I couldn't be happier than that."
Joining the UConn contingent on the team is two-time Olympic gold medalist Tamika Catchings. Also returning for a second straight Olympics are Candace Parker, Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles. Lindsay Whalen and Angel McCoughtry will be competing in the Olympics for the first time and trying to help the U.S. win a fifth straight gold medal. The Americans have won 33 straight Olympic games.
"The USA Basketball women's national team program has been able to sustain an unparalleled level of success in Olympic competition," USA Basketball executive director Jim Tooley said. "We believe we have selected the best core group possible to continue our success on the international stage. These 11 players include a great mix of international veterans, whose leadership is invaluable to the team, and we have young players who have proven themselves and who are hungry for this opportunity."
Only 11 of the 12 roster spots were announced in front of a celebratory crowd waving American flags at the NCAA women's Final Four. The final spot could go to Baylor junior Brittney Griner, who is playing in the Final Four this weekend in Denver.
"Everyone knows I'm a big fan of Brittney Griner," Auriemma said. "Do I think a 6-foot-8 kid who is playing this weekend could help us be even better, yeah I think so."
If Griner does get that final spot, she would become the first college women's basketball player to compete in the Olympics for the U.S. since 1988 when Vicky Bullett (Maryland) and Bridgette Gordon (Tennessee) played.
"I think anytime you're choosing a team made up of the best players, not only the best players in the country, they're some of the best players in the world, it's very difficult to come to a team of 12," Auriemma said. "While 11 players have been selected to be a part of the 2012 Olympic team, some really, really good players are still in the mix for that final spot."
Leaving spots open is nothing new for the U.S. The Americans only announced nine players initially for the 2008 Games before filling out the roster nearly two months later. They also unveiled a core of players in 2000 and 2004 before filling out those teams later.
The Americans have until June 18 to select the final player for the London Olympics.
"I don't think we'll wait till the end of June to do it," women's national team director Carol Callan said. "We're working on a couple days of training camp during the WNBA preseason. Potentially we could wait and bring in one or two extras."