Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi will try and become the first 5-time Olympic gold medalists in basketball as they lead the U.S women's team at the Tokyo Games.
Olympic head coach Dawn Staley will have one of her former South Carolina players joining her in helping Bird and Taurasi reach that goal in the person of A'Ja Wilson.
At South Carolina, Staley has led the Gamecocks for 13 seasons, including the most successful stretch in program history. She led South Carolina to three NCAA Final Fours in the last six tournaments, including the 2017 National Championship, of which Wilson was the star player.
Wilson, the reigning most valuable player in the Women's National Basketball Association, will make her Olympic debut next month but has donned a USA Basketball uniform since 2013, including the last four years as part of the USA National Team Pool.
She has helped the U.S. to four gold medals - 2018 FIBA World Cup, 2015 FIBA U19 World Cup, 2014 FIBA Americas U18 Championship, 2013 FIBA U19 World Cup. Wilson was the 2014 USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year and captured MVP honors at both the 2015 FIBA U19 World Cup and the 2014 FIBA Americas U18 Championship. The U.S. is 47-0 in the games she has played.
As a Gamecock, Wilson ended her career as the most decorated player in program history. Her awards list is headlined by unanimous National Player of the Year honors in 2018 and 2017 NCAA Final Four MOP honors after leading the Gamecocks to the national championship.
She was the first Gamecock to earn All-America and First-Team All-Southeastern Conference honors all four years of her career, and she was the first three-time SEC Player of the Year in league history. After graduation in 2018, she became the program's first WNBA No. 1 draft pick and went on to earn WNBA Rookie of the Year honors that season and MVP recognition in 2020.
Bird and Taurasi were elected for their fifth Olympics on Monday, joining Teresa Edwards as the only basketball players in U.S. history to play in five. Edwards won four gold medals and a bronze in her illustrious Olympic career.
"It's just been a tremendous journey when you think about playing for that long," Taurasi said. "We're trying to take it to the next generation. Focused on what we have to do to come home with gold. Tremendous competition like no other because of COVID, the delay of the Olympics. We're really focused on winning gold."
There have been five international basketball players to play in five Olympics: Spain's Juan Carlos Navarro, Brazil's Adriana Moises Pinto and Oscar Schmidt, Australia's Andrew Gaze and Puerto Rico's Teofilo Cruz.
The 40-year-old Bird and 39-year-old Taurasi will lead a veteran group in Japan, including 6-foot-6 Sylvia Fowles, who will be playing in her fourth Olympics. Tina Charles will be in her third while 6-8 Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart are back for a second time.
The other newcomers along with Wilson are are Skylar Diggins-Smith, Chelsea Gray, Ariel Atkins, Jewell Loyd and Napheesa Collier.
"Happy for the roster we have. There's a great mix of very experienced players to first-time Olympians," Staley said. "You need a good mix, especially if you're going to take care of winning a gold medal today and what the future looks like."
Two former WNBA MVPs who didn't make the roster were Elena Delle Donne and Nneka Ogwumike. Delle Donne hasn't played all season as she's recovering from back surgery. Ogwumike has been sidelined with a left knee sprained suffered earlier this month. She was expected to return around the WNBA's Olympic break next month.
Both players were on the World Championship team that won gold in 2018 and Ogwmuike has been to nearly every U.S. training camp over the last few years. She's the only former WNBA MVP not to make an Olympic roster.
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