Many Terrific Players, Not Enough Spots

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A young generation of stars is pushing to make the U.S. women's national team, led by Brittney Griner, left, and Elena Delle Donne.

The old saying that you can't have too much of a good thing is, in fact, true. But it doesn't always make things easy.

Consider the talent pool for the U.S. women's national team in basketball. There's not just a lot of "good" there, but a lot of "great."

One of the dilemmas that USA Basketball faces is how to fine-tune the makeup of the squad going into major international competitions such as the upcoming FIBA World Championship.

No matter which 12 women are picked for the final roster, the Americans will be the favorite to win the gold medal in Turkey. But how does USA Basketball make tough calls about potentially adding younger players to the team?

It's especially hard because the Americans have so many veterans who are still effective and have shown immense loyalty to USA Basketball over the past decade.

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Tamika Catchings is one of a trio of three-time Olympians vying to make the U.S. team, along with Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird.

Ten of the 12 players who won gold for the U.S. team in the 2012 London Olympics are still in the mix for roster spots. Three are three-time Olympians: Tamika Catchings, Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird.

"It's not unlike when you've got a bunch of seniors on your team in college that have been great players for you," U.S. national team coach Geno Auriemma said Tuesday. "You know you can count on them. But you've got some freshmen or sophomores coming in, and you know you have to get them into the system and play them.

"First things first, we have to win this [event]. And then, No. 2, how do we get some younger players involved? And do they fit in? You've got some great players, but when you put them around other great players, they don't always fit. They're not ready yet to give up so much of themselves for the team. Which is huge for USA Basketball."

National women's team director Carol Callan acknowledged that even the potential of having to cut one of the returning 10 Olympians is distressing.

"I sort of wake up at night sometimes thinking of this," she said. "It is extremely difficult knowing what these players have meant to our program. It's excruciating. It really is."

Of course, it's not certain that it will even happen. A five-member committee that includes Callan and former Olympian Katie Smith will determine the final roster, obviously with feedback from Auriemma. But everyone acknowledges that rising young stars -- including the likes of Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner and UConn junior Breanna Stewart -- are going to push for inclusion based on their ability.

Ultimately, it's a good problem to have; no other country in the women's game has such an abundance of talent. But it could make for some difficult choices.

In preparation for the world championship, USA Basketball has invited 27 players to begin a training camp Sept. 8-10 at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The Americans will play two exhibition games in the United States that will be televised on ESPN2.

The first is an intrasquad game Sept. 11 at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark, Delaware, the former college home of national team hopeful Elena Delle Donne. On Sept. 15, the U.S. team will meet Canada at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

After that, the Americans will travel to Europe for four more exhibition games -- against Australia, China, France and the Czech Republic -- before going to Turkey to start the world championship, which runs Sept. 27 to Oct. 5. In pool play there, the Americans will face China, Serbia and Angola.

The American women have not lost an international game since the 2006 world championship semifinals, when they fell to Russia. They have won two Olympic gold medals and one world championship gold since then.

Players involved in the WNBA Finals who are among the 27 invited will have to join the U.S. squad when they are finished with their WNBA seasons. The WNBA Finals begin Sept. 7; if the series goes five games, it won't end until Sept. 17.

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