Chamique Holdsclaw, Nikki McCray and the rest of the 1999-2000 USA Basketball women's senior national team will try to counter a sparse 16-day training period before next year's Summer Olympic Games in Sydney with a seven-month preparation tour this fall and winter, officials announced yesterday.
Ten of the 12 players expected to be on next year's Olympic team roster will assemble in San Diego next month for an international tournament that will kick off a 30-35 game schedule for the team through March, after which the players will join their WNBA teams for that league's summer season.
USA Basketball officials announced a roster that includes the two Washington Mystics stars as well as four members of the 1996 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team -- Ruthie Bolton-Holifield of the Sacramento Monarchs; Lisa Leslie of the Los Angeles Sparks; Dawn Staley of the Charlotte Sting; and McCray. It also features Houston Comets star Cynthia Cooper, a member of the gold medal-winning 1988 Olympic team and a bronze medalist in the 1992 Olympics.
"I would call this Dream Team II," McCray said. "Our first Dream Team [in 1996] really showcased women's basketball."
The WNBA playoffs and finals conclude at the end of August next year. The Olympics take place Sept. 16 through Oct. 1, 2000. The U.S. players will reassemble at the end of August and travel to Australia around Sept. 5. The WNBA schedule may be moved up slightly to accommodate the training camp plans of the U.S. national team, USA Basketball officials said.
Because no U.S. women's professional basketball leagues existed before the 1996 Olympics, the U.S. national team players were able to travel together without interruption for a year before those Summer Games. They went undefeated in 52 national and international contests before winning the gold with an 8-0 record in Atlanta.
The demise last winter of the American Basketball League, whose season went from autumn to spring, turned out to be a blessing for USA Basketball officials, who wondered how the U.S. team could train properly with women's pro ball being played nearly year round.
"It has opened for us a window of opportunity," said Carol Callan, assistant executive director of USA Basketball.
USA Basketball officials say they don't want to repeat the mistakes that led to bronze medal finishes at the 1992 Olympics and the 1994 world championships. For those tournaments, the players trained together only briefly at short pre-tournament camps.
After the U.S. Olympic Cup in San Diego Sept. 9-12, the U.S. team will play in the USA Basketball International Tournament in Palo Alto, Calif., Sept. 13-18. After one or two more to-be-determined games, the U.S. team will embark on a 12-game collegiate tour from Nov. 1 through Dec. 14. That schedule has not been determined.
The U.S. team will play international opponents from January through March of next year.
"It's tough," McCray said about the schedule during a news conference at the MCI Center. "But when you have played in the Olympics, and you know what it feels like to win the gold medal, you're willing to make the sacrifice and do what it takes to get to that level again."
The U.S. roster also includes Yolanda Griffith of the Sacramento Monarchs; Natalie Williams of the Utah Starzz; Katie Smith of the Minnesota Lynx and DeLisha Milton of the Los Angeles Sparks. The final two roster spots likely will be filled during the fall. The 10 players named yesterday are not guaranteed spots on the 2000 Olympic team, which will be announced next summer, but the intention is for these players to be on that team barring injury or other major problems.
U.S. Coach Nell Fortner, an assistant on the '96 Olympic team, said this team will play the same style as that wide-open, exciting squad.
"When you have athletes like this, you want to take full advantage of that, running and pressing," Fortner said. "We have the ability to do a lot of different things. . . . I don't want it to get too complicated. I want to let them play and play to their strengths."
Fortner said her goal in the coming months will be preparing for the Sydney Olympics rather than blowing away opponents. Fortner said she didn't want the players to be exhausted come next September.
"What matters is training this team and getting better," Fortner said. "We always play to win, but what's really important is getting this team together as one."
The team features nine players who have played on at least one gold medal-winning Olympic or world championship team. Only Griffith has not.
U.S. National Women's Basketball Team
Los Angeles Sparks
Los Angeles Sparks
Coach: Nell Fortner
Assistant coach: Julie Plank