Breanna Stewart left a lasting impression at the U.S. women's basketball team training camp last fall.
Now UConn's sensational sophomore is one of six college players in the national team pool announced Monday by USA Basketball. Joining Stewart were UConn teammates Stefanie Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis along with Baylor's Odyssey Sims, Maryland's Alyssa Thomas and Notre Dame's Kayla McBride.
"I'm thrilled that there's six college kids, because whoever's the coach in 2020 is going to need players to step in, because there's not going to be any Diana or Sue or Tamika Catchings or Lindsay Whalen," said UConn's Geno Auriemma said, the Olympic coach in 2012 and 2016. "There are a lot of players that have won a lot of gold medals that aren't going to be around in 2020. And I think USA Basketball needs to start identifying who that next group of players is going to be."
The six college players complement Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and seven other members of the London Olympic team that won the gold medal. From the 33-player pool, the team will be chosen for the 2014 World Championship and 2016 Olympic teams. The Americans won the world championship in 2010 and have five consecutive Olympic gold medals.
"When I was invited to the minicamp, it was kind of like, 'Wow. Like, I have an opportunity to try and be on the 2016 Olympic team or the World Championship team,'" Stewart said. "When you see things like that, it's even more motivating because you want to be a part of that.
"I want to be a part of USA Basketball as many times as I can and play at the highest level."
Stewart is far from a rookie with USA Basketball. She's always been playing beyond her years, moving up age groups in international competitions. She's on pace to be the first player to win a gold medal for the U.S. at every major international competition. All that's missing are the World University games, World Championship and Olympic golds. She could conceivably get all three in the next three years.
If she does make the worlds, she'd be the youngest player to compete for the U.S. since Kara Wolters, who also played at UConn, played on the 1994 World Championship team.
Stewart, who earned outstanding player honors at the NCAA Final Four last April, has already played in 47 international games — the ninth-most of any players in the pool.
This isn't the first time that college players have been part of the national team pool. Maya Moore played for the U.S. at the 2010 World Championship in the Czech Republic while she was enrolled at UConn. Three college players were part of that pool. Six is the most since the U.S. started using pros in 1996.
Dolson was elated to be part of this squad's pool.
"Words can't describe it," Dolson said. "If you would have told me this a few years ago, I would have thought you were crazy. For me, this honor, the ability to try out, it's just awesome, really cool. It shows what hard work does, and I'm really proud of myself."
A chance to be with the best in the country was an honor for the college players.
"Being part of this group means so much," Notre Dame's McBride said. "It's something you always think about, the opportunity to play with the best of the best, players like Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and so many others. To have had the chance to practice at the USA Basketball mini-camp was a blessing all to itself, but to be included with them as part of this player pool is humbling.
"It's also motivates you to work even harder with the eye on potentially reaching that goal one day soon."
The U.S. most likely won't announce its roster for the worlds until late summer. The worlds start on Sept. 27 and run until Oct. 5 in Turkey.
Associated Press Writer Pat Eaton-Robb in Storrs, Conn. contributed to this report.
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