September 08, 2014

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) There was a sense of familiarity among the coaches and players as the U.S. women's national team opened up training camp for the world championship Monday at the Naval Academy.

Geno Auriemma returns as coach of the squad, which will be trying for a second straight world title at the end of the month.

This marked the fourth time in the history of the U.S. women's basketball program that a coach has served two terms in charge of a world championship team.

Auriemma, who will be the first to coach in two Olympics, potentially will have a lot of the same players back that helped the Americans win a fifth straight gold medal in 2012 at the London Games.

''It was a great first day and it definitely helped that a lot of them were already familiar with the coaching staff and us with them,'' Auriemma said. ''I think almost everyone in the gym today I either coached or coached against in a big game when they were in college.''

Eight Olympians, including three-time gold medalists Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, are in the player pool from which the team will be selected.

Add to that a talented young group of stars led by Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins and UConn junior Breanna Stewart and it's no surprise that the Americans are a heavy favorite to repeat as world champions.

''We have a really good group and I think it will be very competitive to see who will make this team,'' Auriemma said. ''In the past people would come to camp and feel that the roster was already set. Even if we take all eight Olympians that still leaves four spots open.''

Two players who won't be on the squad are Tamika Catchings and Candace Parker, who withdrew from the pool on Sunday due to injuries. Catchings dealt with a variety of injuries during her recently completed WNBA season. She missed the first 17 games for the Indiana Fever because of a back issue. She has been a part of the past three Olympics as well as played in three straight world championships.

Parker sat out a few games for the Los Angeles Sparks and is having minor surgery on her left knee. She's played on the previous two world championship teams as well as the Olympic squads.

''Catch texted me and told me that she wasn't playing and there definitely was a sense of wow,'' Bird said. ''We came in together and it's not going to be the same without her here. That said there's still a lot of talent out here.''

The U.S. was also missing Taurasi, Griner, Candice Dupree, DeWanna Bonner, Delle Donne, Sylvia Fowles and Courtney Vandersloot who are playing in the WNBA Finals, which began Sunday.

Bird said that the first day of practice was a lot easier this time around since a lot of the players already knew the system that Auriemma runs.

''Having continuity definitely helps, although let's be honest most of the other countries have been spending months together training,'' Bird said. ''We're still behind in that standpoint, but it definitely makes a difference that a lot of the players are already aware of what he looks for.''

Six current or former UConn players were among the 17 players in camp on Monday. Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, Tina Charles, Maya Moore, Bird and Stewart all played for Auriemma in college.

The Americans will train at Navy for a few days before playing an intrasquad exhibition Thursday in Delaware. The Americans will then head up to Connecticut to scrimmage Canada before heading overseas for a pre-world tournament in France.

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