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See You in Paris: Looking Ahead to Team USA in 2024
If Tokyo was really the last Olympics for Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, what is next for Team USA?
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As Team USA celebrated its 7th straight gold medal, many spectators focused on Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. The two WNBA legends have played on five of those Olympic teams and represent the past two decades of women’s basketball. However, we can’t help but look ahead to the Paris Olympics three years from now. Team USA got a great glimpse into the future with A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart leading the team in 2021. But beyond Stewart and Wilson, it’s hard to envision what’s next for Team USA. Bird, National Team Director Carol Callan and head coach Dawn Staley have all announced that they will not be returning to their roles with USA Basketball. Taurasi also may not return, despite proclaiming that she would “see you in Paris.”
With these crucial people gone from the program, predicting Team USA’s 2024 roster is quite the fun guessing game. It’ll be interesting to see how much a new National Team Director will change the USA’s mentality in the selection process. Recently, Team USA has favored players who have been to the Olympics before. The players that did not return to Tokyo from the 2016 Olympic team are all either hurt or retired (Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Angel McCoughtry, Elena Delle Donne, Maya Moore, and Tamika Catchings). Similarly, only three players did not participate in 2016 after winning gold in 2012: Asjha Jones, Swin Cash, and Candace Parker. Jones and Cash retired before the Rio Games. Parker is the outlier for reasons that remain unclear and controversial.
With the team’s history in mind, let’s start by breaking down Team USA’s current roster and give our best guess as to who will be back in 2024. For the sake of being optimistic, let’s assume all of these players are healthy enough to play in the Olympic Games.
Locks: Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson
Stewart and Wilson are already the faces of Team USA and will be until they retire (hopefully) decades from now. That is all.
Virtual Locks: Napheesa Collier, Jewell Loyd, Ariel Atkins, Chelsea Gray, and Skylar Diggins-Smith
These players all should be on the 2024 roster despite having smaller roles than Wilson and Stewart this year. Collier did not play enough to put a stamp on the Tokyo Games, but she projects as another face of Team USA going forward and her WNBA coach, Cheryl Reeve, is a strong candidate to coach the next Olympic team.
Diggins-Smith, Loyd, and Gray will battle for the USA’s starting backcourt jobs in 2024. All three will be in their early 30s when the Paris Games begin with Diggins-Smith the oldest of that group at 33. It’s possible that one of these three will fall off their elite level by 2024. But they seem like players that will maintain an elite level in their late primes. Atkins is a perfect fit for the Olympic team and played more than expected in Tokyo. Bet on all of these players returning to the 2024 team.
If she wants to: Brittney Griner
Griner dominated in Tokyo just as much as she does in the WNBA. She was Team USA’s second-leading scorer behind A’ja Wilson and had an all-time Olympic performance in the Gold Medal game. But Griner has expressed a need to take mental health breaks after having substantial time off for the first time in 2020. She already has two gold medals, so it’s conceivable that she could skip the Paris Games when she will be 33 years old. I’ll state the obvious: If Brittney Griner wants to play for Team USA, she will be back on Team USA.
Maybe Aging Out: Sylvia Fowles and Tina Charles
USAB may have to make some tough decisions with these two. When the 2024 Olympics begin, Fowles will be 38 years old and Charles will be 35. Many expected that Charles would not make this team, but she’s currently playing at an MVP level. Charles is a legend of the game and should be back for 2024 if she continues aging gracefully. Fowles has said that this was her last Olympics. She needs just one more gold medal to match Bird and Taurasi for the most all-time, though. If she’s healthy and playing, don’t be surprised to see her have a change of heart and play in Paris. (Editors note: this section has been edited to reflect Sylvia Fowles' comments in her AP Diary)
Aging out: Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi
Bird and Taurasi are names synonymous with women’s basketball and great interviews. The duo’s last interview with Team USA was heartwarming and shed light on their futures. Bird confirmed that these were her last Olympics, but Taurasi said “see you in Paris!” with a smile. DT may have been joking, but maybe not? No one should ever count out a player as great as Taurasi. However, she will be 42 in 2024 and already has a growing list of injury concerns. It’d be surprising to see her in Paris, especially with Bird gone. I want to stress this one more time though: Diana Taurasi is capable of anything.
Who’s got next?
It appears that Team USA will need anywhere from 2-5 new players in 2024. I’m going to project that Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and Sylvia Fowles will not play with Team USA in Paris. So, the most pressing needs are in the backcourt to replace Bird and Taurasi. Team USA would also be wise to inject some youth into the team as they did this year with Napheesa Collier and Ariel Atkins this season.
My first call as USAB director would be to Ogunbowale. Team USA will need a bucket-getter with Diana Taurasi gone (in my scenario) and no one gets more buckets than Arike. In fact, Team USA knows that very well after Arike put up 26 points on them in the WNBA All-Star Game. She also participated in Team USA’s training camp just six months ago in addition to winning gold at the 2019 FIBA AmeriCup. Ogunbowale’s scoring and ability to get out in transition are exactly what this group needs. Honestly, I’d be surprised if she isn’t in Paris.
Elena Delle Donne
Delle Donne would be a lock for any Olympic team if she were healthy. But we don’t know if EDD’s back will cooperate over the next three years. The three herniated discs she suffered en route to the 2019 WNBA title are tricky and painful injuries. However, she is nearing a comeback with the Washington Mystics this season and says that she’s feeling good. EDD will be 33 years old in 2024, so she should still be in her late prime if healthy. EDD’s shooting would create a ton of room for A’ja Wilson in the paint.
This pick may be a little controversial. Despite playing well in New York, Ionescu has been hampered by injuries and has yet to live up to the sky-high expectations placed on her coming out of Oregon. But, Sabrina has flashed her elite talent on several occasions and, at 23 years old, has plenty of time to develop into a superstar. She probably would have been on the 3x3 team if not for the pandemic and her injuries. Outgoing National Team Director Carol Callan has said that Ionescu will be a big part of the US program going forward. Callan’s tenure has come to an end, but Ionescu still has the inside track on an Olympic team spot because of her great potential and Sue Bird’s retirement from Team USA opens up a spot at point guard.
Others to consider
Unfortunately, some of the players I mentioned will be injured or choose not to compete. USAB has a deep pool of talent to pick from though. The 3x3 team’s success in Tokyo should put Kelsey Plum, Allisha Gray, Jackie Young, and Stefanie Dolson in consideration for a spot on the Paris teams. Plum’s shooting and Gray’s perimeter defense would be particularly helpful for my projected 5-on-5 roster. Katie Lou Samuelson had to miss the Tokyo Games, but her shooting and plentiful Team USA experience give her a chance.
Betnijah Laney has made such giant leaps in her game over the past two seasons that it would be foolish to rule her out. Brionna Jones also merits a hard look. If Fowles and/or Griner don’t compete in Paris for whatever reason, Jones provides a true center to maintain the USA’s size advantage. Brianna Turner is a different type of center that would allow the USA some more defensive options. Crystal Dangerfield, Jordin Canada, and Chennedy Carter are strong point guard alternatives with Team USA experience.
Rhyne Howard could have a chance at the 2024 team if she lives up to the hype of being the projected first overall pick in 2022. The underclassmen trio of Aliyah Boston, Paige Bueckers, and Caitlin Clark project as WNBA superstars and members of the Olympic team at some point, but all three will still be a bit young for the 2024 Games at 22 years old. Since the WNBA was founded in 1997, only three players have played on the US Olympic team at 22 years or younger: Breanna Stewart in 2016, Candace Parker in 2008, and Diana Taurasi in 2004.
Boston, Bueckers, and Clark are certainly special, but we still need to see a bit more to group them with the three players on that list. Still, Team USA may call on one or more of them if more established players could not participate. For now, Boston likely has the best chance of getting the call because she can play in the WNBA sooner than the other two and the competition at center isn’t as deep as the competition at guard. That is why she is listed as my injury replacement below. Bueckers and Clark could change the equation, of course. They could develop into even greater players than we expect right now or leave college early to earn valuable WNBA experience.
2024 TEAM USA ROSTER PREDICTION
(Players who were not on the 2020 team are in bold)
Elena Delle Donne
Injury replacement: Aliyah Boston