U.S. women prepare for quest for a fourth straight gold medal

Updated: July 29, 2008, 12:10 AM ET
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- Without much time to prepare for the upcoming Olympics, the entire U.S. women's basketball team was finally on the court together.

The team began a four-day training camp Monday night at Stanford University to start its quest for an unprecedented fourth straight gold medal.

"It's awesome to see this team from 1 through 12," U.S. coach Anne Donovan said. "I'm like a kid in a candy store with all this talent."

Unlike past U.S. teams, this group has not had any time together on the court as a whole team due to injuries, overseas commitments, and the WNBA season. The U.S. has been forced to go with a piecemeal training philosophy, holding different training camps and tours over the last two years to help the selection committee choose from a pool of 29 players.

Developing chemistry on the court will play a huge part in the next few days of training.

"It's very good to have everyone here. It's time to go to work," two-time gold medalist Katie Smith said. "We haven't been on the court together until now and we don't have a lot of time to prepare. But honestly, we've all played with each other and played against each other. So it's more of a refresher course."

Led by three-time gold medalist Lisa Leslie, who will be playing in her final Olympics, the team is a mixture of veterans and talented newcomers. The U.S. finds itself in a different position than it's accustomed to coming off a third-place finish at the 2006 world championships. The U.S. lost to Russia in the semifinals, its first defeat in major international competition since 1994. Australia won the gold.

"We're definitely the underdogs," said guard Diana Taurasi, the WNBA scoring leader at 23.9 points per game this season. "We're hungry to win a gold in the Olympics."

Leslie didn't totally agree with the underdog theory.

"I have three gold medals at home and know what it takes to win," she said.

Joining Leslie on the team are Smith, and 2004 gold medalists Sue Bird, Taurasi, Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever and Tina Thompson. DeLisha Milton-Jones earned a gold medal in 2000 but missed the Athens Olympics four years later due to an injury. The Americans also have many newcomers in Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus, Cappie Pondexter and Kara Lawson.

"I had a hard time sleeping last night knowing I was coming down here today," Lawson said. "These are the best players. You're just anxious to get on the practice court and mesh as quickly as possible. Everyone is so talented, it's like basketball utopia."

After breaking camp on Thursday, the team will head to China to play in the FIBA Diamond Ball Tournament featuring the other three top teams in the world -- Australia, Russia, and host China.

"Learning to play with each other is a big part of the next 10 days, not just the Xs and Os," Donovan said. "It will be a great test in our preparation. The tournament has all the perceived favorites to medal in Beijing and I'm sure it will be extremely competitive."

One intriguing matchup in the Diamond Ball will be against Russia on Aug. 4. The Russians feature guard Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Silver Stars.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press