Fresh off winning a third WNBA title, Sue Bird will try to help the U.S. win a third consecutive FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.
Bird is on the American squad for a record fifth time and can get an unprecedented fourth gold medal. World Cup veterans Nneka Ogwumike, Tina Charles, Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi are also on the U.S. roster.
Bird’s Seattle Storm teammates Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd are also on the roster. The trio helped the Storm win the WNBA championship last week with a sweep of the Washington Mystics.
“It helps to have a sweep,” U.S. coach Dawn Staley said. “We’re going to get them now versus they wouldn’t have gotten here until maybe a day or two or three later, but to get them here yesterday in time to get a little practice in and play against a competitive team like Australia this morning really helps a great deal.”
Washington star Elena Delle Donne will also be on the world cup roster. She suffered a bone bruise in her left knee during the WNBA playoffs, but was well enough to play in the world cup for the first time.
“EDD wanted to be here,” Staley said. “She played through an injury to be here. We’ll watch what we do with her. We’ll cut down on her practice time and get her ready to help us through the games we need to play.”
The U.S. plays Senegal on Saturday, China on Sunday and Latvia on Tuesday in group play.
“The key word for us is looking at our roster is versatility,” Staley said. “Players that can play multiple positions. We can play big or small. When you have that variety, it helps you in the tournament.”
The U.S. has four other first-timers on the roster besides Delle Donne and Loyd. A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Morgan Tuck and Layshia Clarendon are all making their first appearances in the tournament. Plum and Clarendon will help provide some depth at the point guard slot.
“I don’t want to put a whole lot of pressure on Sue at this stage. At times she’ll have to play 30-plus minutes. At times we don’t have to utilize her in that way. We can give Kelsey and Layshia the experience they need to take over the reins. We’ve been pretty good at that position for the last eight years with Sue and Lindsay Whalen. We need the next point guard to get some experience.”
Wilson is reunited with Staley, with whom she played for at South Carolina.
“I’m extremely happy for A’ja. She’s probably one of the youngest players we’ve had on this type of team that has had WNBA experience. She’s fared well. She doesn’t make the team if she didn’t have that going for her,” Staley said.
“Lot of unknowns coming out of college and playing on a team like this. What she gives me is familiarity. Sometimes you know in the heat of a game, I’m probably drawing something that we don’t have in our playbook, But you have A’ja that knows the play. She’s familiar with how I implement things.”