It's not easy having a bull's-eye on your back. But that's just the way the USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team likes it. Holding onto its No. 1 world ranking for eight years by virtue of its 1996 Olympic, 1998 World Championship, 2000 Olympic and 2002 World Championship gold medals, the U.S. has compiled an impressive 34-0 record in these 'majors' since '96.
2004 marks the third Olympic Games for a trio of players who were on the historic 1995-96 USA Basketball Women's National Team that compiled a 60-0 record overall and went on to capture the 1996 Olympic gold medal and collected the '96 U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Basketball Team of the Year honor.
Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles Sparks), Dawn Staley (Charlotte Sting) and Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets) then earned their second Olympic gold as members of the 2000 team. The three, along with 2004 teammates DeLisha Milton-Jones (Los Angeles Sparks) and Katie Smith (Minnesota Lynx), went 8-0 in Olympic play for the gold medal in Sydney .
Getting ready to experience their first Olympics, Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever), Shannon Johnson (San Antonio Silver Stars) and Tina Thompson (Houston Comets), as well as the five previously mentioned Olympic gold medalists, will be joined by an additional three top players in hopes of keeping the USA's gold-medal streak alive.
The final 12-member team will be named in the coming months.
Of the nine USA Senior National Team core members, all but Thompson played together on the 2002 USA World Championship Team that put together an overall 13-0 record and took home the gold medal from China and earned an automatic berth into the Athens Games.
Heading up the 2004 U.S. squad is four-time WNBA championship head coach Van Chancellor of the Houston Comets. Chancellor, along with 2004 assistants Anne Donovan (Seattle Storm), a three-time Olympian, and Gail Goestenkors ( Duke University , N.C. ), headed up the coaching staff at the 2002 FIBA World Championship. Also named as an assistant this summer is C. Vivian Stringer of Rutgers University (N.J.).
Some of the USA 's top competition has finished on the medal stand at recent 'majors.' Russia , which gave the United States a run for its money in the 1998 and 2002 FIBA World Championship gold-medal game, finished with a gold medal at the 2003 European Championship and looks again to be strong and in the medal hunt. 2000 Olympic silver medalist Australia, which finished with the bronze medal at the 1996 Olympics and 1998 and 2002 World Championships, features 2003 WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson; 2003 Tournament of the Americas gold medalist Brazil, which earned the silver in Atlanta and bronze in Sydney; 2003 European Championship silver medalist Czech Republic; as well as 2000 Olympic and 2002 World Championship fourth-place finisher South Korea will all be legitimate medal contenders in Athens.
The American women have competed together numerous times in the past and recently rolled up a 13-0 record against national and professional teams in Cuba and Europe, as well as a talented collegiate All-Star team between February and April 2004. Building its cohesiveness and becoming a well-oiled machine that's noted for its tenacious defense and unselfish play, the U.S. will regroup as a 12-member unit on August 3 in New York for its final push toward Athens with the goal of maintaining the USA 's front-runner status across the globe in women's basketball.