Not only is the entire NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament being played in San Antonio, but half of the U.S. National team is there too for a final training camp before the start of the WNBA season.
Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi and Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird are among 16 players participating as USA Basketball continues on the selection path for the Tokyo Olympics, now less than four months away.
The former Connecticut stars are in contention for a fifth Olympics, which would put them in company with Teresa Edwards, who played in five Olympics from 1984-2000 and won four gold medals. Bird and Taurasi have a chance to win their fifth consecutive gold each, beginning with their first in 2004.
Bird was the first player taken in the 2002 WNBA draft by Seattle followed two years later by Taurasi in the same position. Now at 40 and 38, respectively, they still are playing for their original teams — winning seven WNBA titles combined — and icons in a rapidly evolving sport that owes much to their role in the WNBA reaching its silver anniversary season.
Diana Taurasi, left, and Sue Bird are four-time Olympic gold medalists hoping to make it five this summer at the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
But in addtion to focusing on national team training, the longtime WNBA All-Stars are also watching the women's NCAA Tournament.
Bird and Taurasi spoke Tuesday on a joint media call, weighing in on a broad spectrum of women's basketball issues, including the controversial closing seconds of UConn's win over Baylor Monday in the Elite Eight, what the Olympics mean to them and equity issues between the men's and women's NCAA basketball tournaments.
Was Baylor's DiJonai Carrington fouled in the closing seconds vs. UConn?
Bird: "I thought it was a great game. I'll give my biased answer, I'm super happy UConn won and they're back in the Final Four. There's going to be people saying there was no foul and people saying it was definitely a foul. Everybody is talking about it, and that's what matters. Having storylines and conversations surrounding women's basketball, even if it's a little controversial, that's good for the growth of the game. So I'm excited to see that. And you know what, if there's no call, there's no foul, right?"
Taurasi: "What a great game. You just love watching two teams compete. Obviously I have a little bit of a UConn bias. What Connecticut was able to do in that third quarter run to the fourth quarter was pretty amazing. I mean if I was the one shooting (Carrington), I'd be pretty mad right now."
UConn guard Paige Bueckers, left, celebrates the Huskies' Elite Eight win as Baylor guard DiJonai Carrington (21) walks off the court Monday night. (Photo: Eric Gay, AP)
What playing in the Olympics means to them
Taurasi: "When I think about going to a fifth Olympics, for some reason it takes me back to the last four. How I never thought after one would be two, two would be three, three would be four and now we're talking about 20 years of USA Basketball. The pressure, commitment, time you put into it.
"Looking forward to Tokyo, it's going to be a culmination of a lot of things, of all the hard work we've put in. We tell these guys all the time when you play for USA Basketball, it's not about you. It's not how good you are. It's how good can you be playing with other great players. That's the one thing we've been able to do."
Bird: "For us there wasn't a WNBA growing up. The Olympics was the end all, be all for what a women's basketball player could do. You could go to college, to the Final Four then the Olympics and that was really it. To achieve it one time was like a dream come true. To have a chance to do it five times, it's continually fulfilling that dream but it's also saying we were able to stay at the top of our games and win medals for our country for a long stretch. There's something to be proud of that as well."
On court! Vibes are good.
We back. #USABWNTpic.twitter.com/1oAgHKwm9c
Should college players be allowed to leave for the WNBA after one season?
Taurasi: "Why would women have a choice? Half the battle is having the choice to do it then you go on and make the best decision. The next step is to have that option. Will kids do it? Probably not, but you should have that option. If you're the best at your profession, you should be able to keep getting better."
Bird: "The men are dealing with their own issues in terms of draft eligibility. They're trying to get rid of the one and done. It's a fluid thing. That will be the case for us. It did come up in the last CBA negotiations, it was just not the priority in the moment. I think players should have a choice, always. What's interesting is the whole name and likeness thing as it pertains to college (and perhaps staying in school longer)."
Taurasi: "At this point in our careers, it's making sure when they're out of college they have the opportunity to succeed when they go to the WNBA. There's this momentum right now especially in women's sports. We want that momentum to carry on after you graduate from college. That shouldn't be the best years of your career. When you get to the pros, that should be your best years. We've made steps to do that with the new CBA."
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