Charles is one of two Washington Mystics players on the roster. Guard Ariel Atkins will join her; she’s a first-time Olympian who exemplifies the other half of the squad — a group of six Olympic newcomers tabbed as the future of Team USA.
Napheesa Collier (Minnesota Lynx), Skylar Diggins-Smith (Phoenix Mercury), Chelsea Gray and A’Ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces) and Jewell Loyd (Seattle Storm) also are making their Olympic debuts.
“I think sometimes you get caught up in the history of where this team has been, and we’re trying to take it to the next generation,” Taurasi said Monday, when the roster was announced on NBC’s “Today” show. “. . . We’re just really focused on what we have to do to come home with gold.”
The frontcourt is in some ways the more settled group. Wilson, 24, has a WNBA MVP award on her résumé, and Stewart and Griner could be a part of Team USA for many Olympic cycles to come.
But among the newcomers, Diggins-Smith, Gray, Loyd and Atkins are worth keeping an eye on as the U.S. squad looks to prepare successors for Bird, 40, and Taurasi, 39, at the guard positions.
The veteran pair, former college teammates at Connecticut, first suited up for Team USA in international competition in 2000 and are part of a small club of five-time Olympians in basketball. On the women’s side, only Team USA’s Teresa Edwards and Brazil’s Adriana Moises have competed in as many Olympic Games. On the men’s side, Spain’s Juan Carlos Navarro, Brazil’s Oscar Schmidt, Australia’s Andrew Gaze and Puerto Rico’s Teófilo Cruz have done so.
Taurasi fractured her sternum last month but is expected to return to play for the Phoenix Mercury in a few weeks and be ready when Team USA training camp begins in July in Las Vegas, according to the Associated Press. She is the only member of the squad not currently healthy.
During a news conference Monday, Charles discussed carrying on the supremely high standard of Team USA on the international stage.
“For the six players that have been a part of the Olympic sorority, just more so for us, we know what to expect. We know what to demand from the younger players. We know we have to set the tone, set the example with practices and how we carry ourselves outside when we’re walking around and interacting with fans and media,” Charles said. “. . . I’ve had the experience of playing with a handful of [the newcomers] on the FIBA circuit, and I don’t think they’re going to be out of step. All of those new guys with the new wave for the USA players, I think they’re going to be more than fine.”
The two most noteworthy players not included on the roster are the Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne and Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, both former WNBA MVPs who were on the 2018 World Cup squad.
Both players are injured; Delle Donne has not played since she led the Mystics to their WNBA championship in October 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic and back surgery. Ogwumike, one of the most prominent voices in the WNBA as the president of the players’ union executive committee, is recovering from a knee sprain.
Even without them, the U.S. squad is far and away the favorite to win the tournament in Tokyo, scheduled from July 26 to Aug. 8 at Saitama Super Arena.
South Carolina’s Dawn Staley, who played on the 1996 team that started this streak of gold medals for the U.S. women, will be the head coach. Her assistants are Cheryl Reeve, the coach of the Lynx; Jennifer Rizzotti, the president of the Connecticut Sun; and Dan Hughes, the recently retired Seattle Storm coach.
“USA Basketball has never been in a better place,” said Staley, who won three gold medals as a player and two more as an assistant coach, in a statement Monday. “I’m honored to be the coach of such an amazing collection of talented women, both those named to the team and those who gave their all the last few years but won’t be with us in Tokyo. The fact that some of the players who won’t suit up this summer would start for any other country is a testament to their talent and to what USA Basketball has done to build a program that lifts up our female athletes every single day. I’m so proud to be the coach of Team USA and like all of the coaches, support staff, and our players, I can’t wait to make America proud this summer.”
USA Basketball is expected to announce the men’s Olympic roster later this month. That team’s training camp begins July 6, also in Las Vegas, under San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich.