Playing in the Summer Olympics will be part of a very full 2016 for UConn star and recent WNBA No. 1 draft pick Breanna Stewart. She was among the 12 players named Wednesday to the U.S. women's basketball team for the upcoming Rio Games, and one of three first-time Olympians.
Also making their Olympic debuts will be Chicago's Elena Delle Donne, who was the WNBA's MVP last season, and Phoenix's Brittney Griner. The Americans will be seeking their sixth consecutive Olympic gold medal. Stewart is coming off a fourth consecutive NCAA title with the Huskies, and she was selected first in the draft by Seattle, where she'll start her professional career.
"It's definitely been a great year," Stewart said. "I've had a lot of great things happen throughout my career, but when you look at the opportunity to be able to go to the Olympics, that was my biggest goal in basketball. Winning a fourth national championship, getting drafted, going to the Storm, and now this. It's really amazing. I can't wait to get going and see what happens."
The rest of the U.S. roster comprises nine of the 10 players who were returning from the 2012 London Olympics.
They are Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, Sylvia Fowles and Lindsay Whalen of defending WNBA champion Minnesota; Seattle's Sue Bird, Indiana's Tamika Catchings, New York's Tina Charles, Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry and Phoenix's Diana Taurasi.
Bird, Taurasi and Catchings are all going for their fourth Olympic gold medal. Catchings has already announced that this will be her final season of play.
Los Angeles' Candace Parker, who won gold with the U.S. team in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, was not chosen for the squad. Parker, 30, is the only active WNBA player who has won the league's MVP award more than once. She is also the only player off the 2012 Olympic team who was one of the finalists for 2016 but was not picked.
"If you combine the returning 2012 Olympians with the 2014 world champions, you have 15 very qualified candidates," U.S. women's national team director Carol Callan said in a statement. "Add to that an emerging group of young athletes, and the decision becomes that much harder to settle on a final 12-member roster.
"The good news is that we have developed a deep, talented pool of athletes at each position through our national team program. We are grateful that the very best athletes in our country want to play and push each other to be better whenever our team gathers to train."
A five-member selection committee made the final decision on the 12 players. The team is coached by UConn's Geno Auriemma. He had six former Huskies on the team that he coached to a gold medal in the 2012 London Games. This time there are five from UConn: Stewart, Moore, Bird, Charles and Taurasi.
"The committee had a really difficult job this year, because it's the first time in a long time that a lot more than 12 players could easily have been named to that team," Auriemma said in a statement. "But the 12 that were named are a great combination of multiple gold-medal winners and great leaders."
Stewart and Griner played on the 2014 world championship team for the United States. But this will be the first major competition on the senior national team for Delle Donne, who was the No. 2 pick behind Griner in the 2013 WNBA draft. Last season, Delle Donne led the WNBA in scoring at 23.4 PPG and won the MVP award.
"It's so hard to even put it into words," Delle Donne said. "Just to think this entire basketball journey I've been on has been absolutely incredible, but this has been by far the pinnacle of my career and the best news I've ever heard. It's absolutely a dream come true."
The Olympics will run from Aug. 5-21. The U.S. team is in Group B along with Canada, Senegal, Serbia and two teams that will earn their berth in the Rio Games at the Olympic qualifying tournament in France from June 13-19.