On the heels of helping Connecticut win its third consecutive NCAA title and then becoming the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft, Diana Taurasi can add another achievement to her résumé: Olympian.
Taurasi was one of two former UConn Huskies named to the USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team that will compete in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens in August, the U.S Olympic Selection Committee and national team coach Van Chancellor announced Wednesday. Swin Cash, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 WNBA draft, also was selected.
Taurasi, Cash and Sue Bird, who was selected earlier, were teammates for two seasons at UConn, including the 2002 national championship squad, which finished a perfect 39-0.
Nine players already had been named to the "core group" that would help comprise the Olympic squad, including Bird, Tamika Catchings, Shannon Johnson, Lisa Leslie, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Katie Smith, Dawn Staley, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson.
One spot on the 12-member team is still open. The committee will evaluate players for the final roster spot during the WNBA preseason before making an announcement on the eventual 12-member squad. That position will be filled by a post player, said Renee Brown, who chairs the USA Basketball selection committee.
"This is definitely a thrill,'' said Taurasi, who led Connecticut to its third straight national title last month and was
the top pick, by the Phoenix Mercury, in the WNBA draft. "Watching the Olympics as a little kid, following Lisa Leslie
and even before that, Teresa Edwards, it's definitely going to be special to be able to play on an Olympic team.''
Taurasi and Cash -- who played alongside the core group during its recent spring training -- will join the Olympic team that will begin preliminary round play on Aug. 13. The preliminary round is slated to run from Aug. 13-22, with the medal round to follow from Aug. 25-28.
At various stages of its pre-Olympic training camp, 10 players -- including Cheryl Ford, Nikki Teasley and Ruth Riley -- had tried out for Team USA's final roster spots.
Taurasi played with the U.S. team in three exhibition games against Japan in April, averaging nine points, four assists and 2.3 rebounds.
"At first I was a little nervous joining a new team, especially
a team with so many veterans," Taurasi said. "I didn't know how
I'd fit in. But they made it easy for me, people taking me through
stuff and showing me what to do.
"Once the games came around, that was the fun part."
Cash participated in all three of the team's spring training sessions. In 13 games, she averaged 9.6 points and 5.5 rebounds and had three double-doubles.
"Cash is like the Energizer Bunny that you see on TV,'' U.S. coach Van Chancellor said. "She ... just plays tremendous defense, plays hard on every play.''
Taurasi guided UConn to the NCAA title in each of the last three seasons and is the program's all-time leader in assists and 3-point field goals. The two-time Naismith national player of the year finished as UConn's second-leading career scorer with 2,156 points.
"The last five weeks have been crazy," Taurasi said. "I've
enjoyed it. You can look at it both ways. You can think, `Man, it's
so frustrating, you never have any time for yourself.'
"But I may never have this opportunity again, so you have to
look at it as a positive. All these things are here for a reason.
I'm going to take advantage of them."
Cash helped lead the Detroit Shock to their first WNBA title last summer while averaging a team-high 17.5 points per game during the playoffs. The 2002 WNBA Rookie of the Year, Cash was selected to play in the 2003 WNBA All-Star Game and was a second-team All-WNBA choice this past season. She currently ranks eighth among UConn's career scoring leaders (1,583), sixth in rebounds (910), eighth in blocks (130) and seventh in field goal percentage (.551).
"When I got the phone call from Renee, there was a lot of
overjoy, a lot of tears," Cash said. "It wasn't so much about me.
It was about all the people who worked to get me to this point, who
prayed for me and helped me out."
"Probably one of the coolest parts will be playing with Swim and Sue again," Taurasi said. "I started my college career playing with those guys and now we will have the chance to do it again."
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.