Team USA's Future On Display At World Cup Training Camp
Aliyah Boston, Rhyne Howard, Shakira Austin, and NaLyssa Smith showed Team USA that the future is very bright.
Thanks for reading the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter. If you like our work, be sure to check out our stats site, our podcast, and our social media accounts on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also buy Her Hoop Stats gear, such as laptop stickers, mugs, and shirts!
Haven’t subscribed to the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter yet?
The USA’s roster for the Women’s World Cup starting later this month is set! Kind of. USA Basketball announced a final roster after wrapping up training camp in Las Vegas this weekend. The roster includes nine players who participated in the training camp and three players (Kahleah Copper, Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart) who joined the team after getting eliminated in the WNBA Semifinals. The roster also includes six players currently playing in the WNBA Finals, who are in the World Cup player pool.
So, as much as half of the team’s final roster could change before the competition begins on September 22. If the Aces keep winning and sweep the Sun tomorrow, the odds of those players in the Finals showing up increase. If the series goes the distance, it’s hard to see players getting to Australia two days after winning the championship, especially those with overseas obligations. Regardless, it’s hard to project exactly who will be playing for this team.
While it may not have sorted out the roster completely, training camp provided an excellent opportunity for Team USA to get a glimpse of the team’s future. Team USA mainstays Sylvia Fowles, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Tina Charles are either retired or not here. The vacuum left by those players provided opportunities to a crop of young players to either make their first national team or take on leadership roles.
“It's just cool to see a lot of young players,” said Sabrina Ionescu. “That's super exciting because I feel like the game is just changing. It's continuing to be at a really high level and that's starting, not in year eight, but in year one, two, and three. That's only going to make all of us better, it's going to make USA Basketball better.”
It doesn’t feel like that long ago that Ionescu was the young star getting experience in the USA system. Now, she’s not close to the youngest player on this team. South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston holds that honor, as she competes in her first senior USAB camp at age 20. She is on track to join an exclusive list of women’s basketball greats. Since the WNBA’s inception in 1996, just four college players have competed for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup: Breanna Stewart in 2014, Maya Moore in 2010, Candace Parker in 2006, and Chamique Holdsclaw in 1998.
“It's amazing, really, because this is the next level that I want to be at,” said Boston during a press conference last week. “To be able to have this experience right now, during training camp, going against the top players in the WNBA is just something truly special and I'm learning a lot.”
Boston mentioned she had to adjust to the physicality and the pace at this level. From what we saw in Team USA’s Red-White Game, she adjusted quite well over the short training camp. The reigning Naismith winner almost put up a double-double (11 points, 8 rebounds) in her first taste of WNBA-level competition. While she did struggle with Stef Dolson’s size and physicality early, Boston figured out how to seal her and owned the paint for a lot of her minutes. She looks every bit of what is expected of her and, hopefully, we see her play some minutes in Sydney.
Of course, Boston is not the only young player at training camp. Rhyne Howard, Shakira Austin, and NaLyssa Smith also made the initial final roster for the World Cup. The trio will be forever linked as the top three picks of the 2022 WNBA Draft, and they lived up to the hype by each landing on the All-Rookie team after impressive debut seasons. So it’s fitting that they attended their first senior Team USA camp together. While there’s still a chance that they don’t play in Sydney, these three look like major pieces of USAB’s future.
“With [Shakira and NaLyssa], it's all good vibes and we know that, sooner or later, we're going to be the faces of the league,” said Howard when I asked her about their relationship.
Howard made that statement look obvious with a 14-point, 4-rebound, 3-steal performance in Team USA’s Red-White scrimmage. She shined in the game’s break-neck pace and poured in points at all three levels. Austin (8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists) and Smith (7 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists) also benefited from the speed of the game. All three players fit into Cheryl Reeve’s vision of the team and are more than capable of contributing on the international stage.
“They're really looking calm and collected,” said Aerial Powers. “They're surprisingly more relaxed than I thought they were going to be.”
As the rookies and Boston showed off their skills, they also got to soak in basketball knowledge from veterans of all ages. Howard got to play with one of her inspirations in Angel McCoughtry. Boston mentioned asking Natasha Howard about her hook shots. Both Austin and Smith also spoke about how much they were learning.
“The coaches have not stopped putting knowledge throughout practices and the vets continue to share little key pieces throughout it,” said Austin, in response to a question from Jenn Hatfield. “So, I’ve really just been trying to soak everything up.”
It’s very cool to see this transfer of knowledge, because this is how the sport continues to evolve. But it’s not all about basketball. At least two players also made a new friend at camp. Powers and Howard not only matched up against each other on the court. They also matched up on the Xbox. After the first practice, Powers showed Howard how to play Call of Duty and Howard returned the favor with Fortnite. Howard said that they would play NBA2K on Friday night when it was released. Howard pops up a couple of times in Powers’s vlog of training camp.
“It was just real quick, like we've been friends,” explained Howard. “It was a great connection with us. I can tell we're gonna be friends for a long time.”
The learning experience was not just limited to the youngest players. Ariel Atkins, one of two 5x5 Olympic gold medalists in camp, took on a more vocal role than in past years. She led the White team with 11 points, tied with Boston and Betnijah Laney. Atkins headlined the “older” group of players between 24 and 30 years old, including first-time senior team members Laney and Stef Dolson. The superstars already in the USAB system will likely dominate the 5x5 Olympic roster. But these players could be key cogs in the USA machine and get the opportunity to represent their country.
“My biggest thing is anytime USA Basketball calls, I try to answer and be a part of it,” said Atkins. “It's just the tradition of it and what it means to put the jersey on and not only represent the country, but represent the women that came for you and put the jersey on.”
Ariel’s statement is exactly what this process is about in the end: Players playing for the pride of country, passing down knowledge between generations, and creating friendships. We’ll have to wait and see who exactly is playing in the World Cup later this month. Regardless, we just saw the future of the USA’s program in this training camp and it’s in great hands.