Swin Cash would love to go for her second Olympic gold medal in London this summer. But she’s not tempted to call USA head coach Geno Auriemma for the inside track on her potential selection.
The pair go back a long way, of course. Back to her time at the University of Connecticut when they shared in two NCAA Championships, including a fabled undefeated season in 2002.
Auriemma, as his tradition at this time of year, is now preparing for another Final Four this weekend, starting with Saturday’s semi-final against Notre Dame.
“That’s the job at hand,” Cash declares. Not even a quick text for a hint on her spot?
No, she laughs. “Right now it’s all about UConn and he’ll focus on USA Basketball when it’s time.”
That moment is fast approaching. On Friday, 21 will become 12 when the squad is announced and the reigning world and Olympic champs can look towards the serious business of defending their crown.
All but one of the initial group plies their trade in the WNBA (Baylor’s prodigious Brittney Griner being the lone exception). A handful are involved in this weekend’s Euroleague Women Finals in Istanbul. The internal competition to court favour among USA Basketball’s five-strong selection committee has been fierce.
“It’s so competitive given that we have so much talent and size,” Cash states. “So it’s about putting the best team together that will help us will the gold.”
The Chicago Sky forward, now 32, was part of the USA’s victorious squad at Athens 2004 – and again in the world’s in the Czech Republic two years ago. The Americans will arrive with such tradition firmly on their side. In six of the last seven Olympics, they have stood atop the podium.
That brings added pressure, she admits. But the knock-out format in the latter stages is enough to focus the mind.
“It’s not like in the NBA or WNBA where you have different series in best of three or best of five. We prepare to come in when we’re not making shots and the other team is and it’s all about how you win those games. There’s a lot of mental preparation.”
Experience matters internationally. In the USA’s initial squad, there are three holdovers with two Olympic titles already to their name. New faces will be expected to quickly integrate themselves into Auriemma’s programme.
The USA training camp will be short and to the point before the team departs for a series of warm-up exhibition games including a clash with Great Britain in Manchester on July 18. The brevity of those preparations is a hindrance, Cash admits.
“We understand that we’re already at a disadvantage to some other countries because a lot of them train 1-2 months before the Olympics whereas we’ll only get 1-2 weeks. You can’t just assume that because you have the most talent, you’re going to win the gold medal.
“You have to have a team with a variety of players who can do a number of things. I know Coach Auriemma likes players who can play multiple positions because you never know what’s going to happen. Whether it’s foul trouble or someone being off on a given night. You need players who are smart enough to go in there and give you what you need.”
European champions Russia will be gunning for the holders. So too France, Australia and the rest of the pack who would love to play David to an American Goliath.
For most of Uncle Sam’s women, there is at least some familiarity with their primary foes. “Whereas on the men’s side, they have to scout and get film and break it down,” Cash reveals. “A lot of times, we know what the opposing players do because we’ve played against them. That’s a help.”
She hopes it will be enough to triumph in London, whether she is on court or watching in front of the TV. The USA simply does not travel to claim just any colour of medal.
“Gold is always the expectation,” Cash affirms. “The bar is always set really high. You can’t lower it because it’s a different year or a different team.
“That’s the way the USA has always approached it.”
Great Britain women play the USA at the Manchester Arena on July 18. For tickets visit www.ticketmaster.co.uk or call +44 (0)844 847 8000
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