COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) While the women's college basketball season may still be a few months away, most of the top returning players are spending this week at the inaugural Under-23 USA Basketball training camp.
''I don't know if I've ever seen such a great collection of college talent in the same place on the women's side,'' UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. ''They've done it on the men's side a few times with select teams playing against the pros, but never on the women's side.''
Auriemma, who led the U.S. to gold medals at the past two Olympics, was a guest speaker to the opening training session Monday night. His talk had nothing to do with the X's and O's of basketball. It was about being a good teammate and what it takes to be an Olympian.
''It's not about the points you score, but about what else you can bring to the team. Are you a good teammate?'' Auriemma said. ''No one remembers who the leading scorer was or who led the team in rebounds. It's all about whether you won or not. Everyone has pretty much the same skill set. The question is can you be a good teammate.''
Louisville coach Jeff Walz will lead the U23 team when it plays in a tournament in Japan in the middle of August. He was happy to have Auriemma address the group of 36 players before the start of practice.
''I think it's perfect. You have a lot of great college players that need to hear from someone else. They get the same rhetoric from their college coaches all the time,'' Walz said. ''Now you get the Olympic coach come in here and basically back up what we've been saying. It's important for them to hear and understand. It's not just, `What you do during a game? How do you come to practice? How do you get your teammates better?' It's so valuable to have him come and be a part of it.''
The U23 camp and team were the brain child of USA national team director Carol Callan. She was talking with her counterpart in Australia about what they could do to strengthen competition for this age group, since there is no longer a FIBA U23 tournament. The World University Games, which these players could normally play in, are being held this year at the end of August, which would make it difficult to field a team since most players are back in school and would have to miss class time.
''We wanted to find something for this group and this seems to fit perfectly,'' Callan said. ''The timing was just right with most of them done with summer school so they could make it out to the training camp.''
The players will train all week and also have a mini tournament that will culminate with a gold medal game on Friday. At the same time a group will be picked to play in the U23 tournament in Japan. Napheesa Collier, Azura Stevens, Katie Lou Samuelson and Gabby Williams of UConn, as well as Rebecca Greenwell of Duke, can't play in the Japan tournament because their schools have trips planned to Italy at the same time.
The selection committee will still have plenty of talent to choose from with the remaining players.
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