Coach Geno Auriemma wanted to have the best talent available to him.
So it was no coincidence that when the U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team was constructed, those in positions of responsibility within basketball operations were able to find a five-person unit with whom Auriemma had long-standing ties.
When the team attempts to win its sixth straight Olympic gold medal in Rio, the squad will have a decidedly University of Connecticut flair.
Five members — Sue Bird, Tina Charles, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart — played for Auriemma at UConn. All won titles with the Huskies. Bird, Charles and Moore each won two titles; Taurasi was a three-time National Champion while Stewart won championships in all four of her years at Storrs, Connecticut.
"They’re on the team because they’re really good," Auriemma said at the White House in May, according to USA Today. "They’re five of the best players in the world, and no matter who is coaching, they’d be on the team. I’m just fortunate enough to be the one coaching them."
The five are significant components for their WNBA squads. Bird (12.5 points and six assists per game) and Stewart (19.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game) play together on the Seattle Storm; Charles averages 21.4 points and 9.6 rebounds for the New York Liberty. Moore has complied a 19.4 points /5.2 rebounds/4.4 assist slash line for the the Minnesota Lynx, while Taurasi, a star for the Phoenix Mercury, is averaging 18.9 points and 4.3 assists.
Four of the five have represented America in Olympic competition.
Stewart is the only member of the Huskies' Olympic outfit to never participate in the games, according to her Team USA profile. It bears noting that she's 21 and was selected first overall by the Storm in April.
"Well, first of all when I saw that [U.S. Women's Basketball National Team Director Carol Callan] was calling, I had a mini heart attack. Because I'm like, 'What's going to happen? I don't know! I don't know!' And then I answered it. … When she congratulated me, I was speechless. I did not know what to say," Stewart told The Hartford Courant after the Olympic team was announced in April.
"I've had a lot of great things happen throughout my career, but when you look at this and when you look at the opportunity to be able to go to the Olympics, that was my biggest goal in basketball," she said.
"It was the highest goal that I had set for myself. … Winning a fourth national championship, getting drafted, going to the Storm, and now this." Stewart added. "It's really amazing. I can't wait to get going and see what happens."
While his most recent star is looking forward to Rio, Auriemma’s focus is twofold:
Winning gold and enjoying the Olympics.
"It's only one game, it's not best of five, it's not best of seven. You have to play great every night and all it takes is one night where the other team plays better and you come home with something less than a gold medal," Auriemma told the Courant in July.
"The [2012 London Summer Olympics] I was so fixated on, 'We have to win the gold medal, we have to win the gold medal,' and probably didn't really experience as much as I could have throughout the rest of the tournament," he said. "Going in this time, I want to do a much better job of playing it one day at a time and taking it one day at a time."