Since 1996, the US women ballers have been an unstoppable juggernaut on the international scene. During that period Team USA garnered three Olympic gold medals (1996, 2000, 2004) and two FIBA world championships (1998 and 2002). Their sustained excellence has been welcomed by US basketball fans in light of the men's program high profile failures on the international level.
But after getting upset in the FIBA women's championship semifinals 75-68 by the Russians last year in Brazil and having their 50 game international win streak snapped, Team USA is in an unfamiliar position going into this FIBA Americas Championship For Women that starts today in Valdivia, Chile and runs through September 30.
Win or run the risk of not making it to the Beijing Olympic Games next year.
Due to being either the World or Olympic Champion and getting the automatic berth as the host Olympic country in 1984 and 1996, Team USA didn't have to qualify for the 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 Games. In the two previous Qualifying Tournaments Team USA participated in (1976,1980) they compiled a 10-1 record and captured gold both times.
Only the winner of this tournament gets the automatic bid to Beijing for the FIBA Americas Zone. Second through fourth place get one last shot to qualify for Beijing in a FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament that will be held June 9-15 at an undetermined site.
Those FIBA Americas teams will have to fight it out with nine other national teams from around the globe who did not claim gold in the other FIBA zones. Those teams will have to battle two from Africa (silver and bronze medalists), two from Asia (silver and bronze medalists), four from Europe (second through fourth place finishers) and one from Oceania (silver medalist), to claim the final five Olympic slots.
Team USA would rather handle their business now and not wait until June 2008 to qualify. The team that will attempt to bring home the FIBA Americas championship consists of Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx), Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), Rebekkah Brunson (Sacramento Monarchs), Swin Cash (Detroit Shock), Kara Lawson (Sacramento Monarchs), DeLisha Milton-Jones (Washington Mystics), Courtney Paris (University of Oklahoma), Candace Parker (University of Tennessee), Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix Mercury), Katie Smith (Detroit Shock), Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) and Tina Thompson (Houston Comets). Additionally, Candice Wiggins was addded as an alternate and will travel to Chile to train with the squad prior to the FIBA Americas Championship.
Team USA will be coached by the Seattle Storm's Anne Donovan. Her assistants are Mike Thibault (Connecticut Sun) and collegiate head coaches Gail Goestenkors of the University of Texas and Temple University's Dawn Staley.
Despite the loss in last year's semis, Team USA is still ranked number 1 in the FIBA world rankings and is in Group B with Cuba, Canada and Jamaica. Group A has the always tough Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and the hosts from Chile.
Team USA's opening game in Group B play will be against the Cubans.