Aces star A’ja Wilson named to US Olympic team; Bird, Taurasi bid for 5th gold medals

Aces - WNBA

Las Vegas Aces’ A’ja Wilson, left, drives against Los Angeles Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike during the first half of a WNBA basketball game Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson is joining veterans Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi in the quest for gold at the Tokyo Games.

Wilson, the reigning WNBA MVP, will be appearing in her first Olympics. She helped the U.S. win the World Championship in 2018 in Spain.

The U.S. team will get together in Las Vegas in July to train for a week as well as play an All-Star Game against a selection of WNBA players. The Americans will also play games against Australia and Nigeria.

Bird and Taurasi will try and become the first five-time Olympic gold medalists in basketball.

The duo was selected for their fifth Olympics on Monday, joining Teresa Edwards as the only basketball players in U.S. history to play in five. Edwards won four gold medals and a bronze in her illustrious Olympic career.

“It’s just been a tremendous journey when you think about playing for that long,” Taurasi said. “We’re trying to take it to the next generation. Focused on what we have to do to come home with gold. Tremendous competition like no other because of COVID, the delay of the Olympics. We’re really focused on winning gold.”

There have been five international basketball players to play in five Olympics: Spain’s Juan Carlos Navarro, Brazil’s Adriana Moises Pinto and Oscar Schmidt, Australia’s Andrew Gaze and Puerto Rico’s Teofilo Cruz.

The 40-year-old Bird and 39-year-old Taurasi will lead a veteran group in Japan, including 6-foot-6 Sylvia Fowles, who will be playing in her fourth Olympics. Tina Charles will be in her third while 6-8 Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart are back for a second time.

Wilson is one of six newcomers to the Olympic stage. Others making their Olympic debuts are Skylar Diggins-Smith, Chelsea Gray, Ariel Atkins, Jewell Loyd and Napheesa Collier.

“Happy for the roster we have. There’s a great mix of very experienced players to first-time Olympians,” U.S. coach Dawn Staley said. “You need a good mix especially if you’re going to take care of winning a gold medal today and what the future looks like.”

Two former WNBA MVPs who didn’t make the roster were Elena Delle Donne and Nneka Ogwumike. Delle Donne hasn’t played all season as she’s recovering from back surgery. Ogwumike has been sidelined with a left knee sprained suffered earlier this month. She was expected to return around the WNBA’s Olympic break next month.

Both players were on the World Championship team that won gold in 2018 and Ogwmuike has been to nearly every U.S. training camp over the last few years. She’s the only former WNBA MVP not to make an Olympic roster.

“Breaks my heart that Nneka isn’t on this team,” Staley said. “Having to make a decision today, if we had to make a decision a month from now I’m sure she’d be healthy. This was one of the things she wanted to do. … She’s been a great voice in our training camp and practices. We’re going to definitely miss Nneka.”

The Americans have won the last six consecutive gold medals, not dropping a game at the Olympics since 1992. They are the heavy favorites to win again. The Americans are in a pool with France, Japan and Nigeria, which the U.S. opens up against on July 27. The Americans face Japan on July 30 and France on Aug. 2.

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