NORMAN, Okla. -- The Big 12 Championship isn't the only major news around the Oklahoma women's basketball program this week.
USA Basketball announced its 21 player Senior National Team pool on Tuesday morning and it includes OU sophomore Courtney Paris. Paris will be among 21 players vying for a spot on the National Team that will attempt to qualify for and compete in the 2008 Olympics.
"This honor still hasn't completely set in," said Paris. "Look at the players that are invited to try out, they are the best of the best in women's basketball. I have always dreamed of playing in the Olympics but never dreamed I would have the opportunity. Now that opportunity is in front of me and I will attack it with everything I have this summer."
"It is an incredible opportunity for Courtney," said OU head coach Sherri Coale. "Courtney takes great pride in her involvement in USA Basketball and she is honored to be selected. It's an honor for our program as well. We look forward to her representing OU and USA to the best of her abilities."
Below is the official release from USA Basketball:
With an eye towards continued adaptability to the changing women's basketball environment and building upon the success of the USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team program, USA Basketball today announced the 21-member 2007-08 USA Women's Senior National Team. This group of seasoned veterans and rising stars, headlined by three-time Olympic gold medalist Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets) and two-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Smith (Detroit Shock), will train together over the next two years as the U.S. attempts at the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games and then defend its three consecutive Olympic gold medal winning streak. It is expected that players selected to compete on USA Senior National teams in the 2007 and 2008 international competitions will come from the USA Basketball Senior National Team pool.
In addition to Smith and Swoopes, included on the USA's deep and talent-stocked roster are: Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx), Alana Beard (Washington Mystics), Sue Bird (Seattle Storm), Swin Cash (Detroit Shock), Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever), Jessica Davenport (Ohio State University), Katie Douglas (Connecticut Sun), Cheryl Ford (Detroit Shock), Sylvia Fowles (Louisiana State University), Taj McWilliams-Franklin (Connecticut Sun), DeLisha Milton-Jones (Washington Mystics), Deanna Nolan (Detroit Shock), Courtney Paris (University of Oklahoma), Candace Parker (University of Tennessee), Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix Mercury), Michelle Snow (Houston Comets), Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury), Tina Thompson (Houston Comets) and Lindsay Whalen (Connecticut Sun).
The USA's next chance to qualify for the 2008 Olympics will be at the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship, slated for Sept. 25-29 in Valdivia, Chile. The gold medalist at that tournament will earn a berth to the Beijing Olympic 12-nation field. In addition to the USA, teams participating in the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship will be Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Jamaica and Mexico. Should the United States not return home from Chile with the gold medal, there will be one final chance to qualify for the Olympics at the 2008 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament slated for June 9-15 at a site to be determined.
The complete USA Women's Senior National Team training plans, which will include domestic and international training camps and competition through 2008, will be announced at a later date.
Heading the USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team through 2008 is WNBA Seattle Storm head coach and four-time U.S. Olympic Team member Anne Donovan, who was on the 1980, 1984 and 1988 squads as a player and was an assistant coach for the 2004 team. She will be assisted by 2006 WNBA Coach of the Year Mike Thibault of the Connecticut Sun and collegiate head coaches Gail Goestenkors of Duke University (N.C.) and Temple University's (Pa.) Dawn Staley.
"The parity at the top level of the women's international game is at an all-time high, and we recognize that our national team program needs to be adaptable in order to put the U.S. in the best possible position to re-claim the gold medal in Beijing and beyond," said USA Basketball President Val Ackerman. "By including a larger number of players in the program, we hope to create a more competitive training environment for the team, as well as accelerate the development of the young players who we will count on to continue our winning tradition in the future."
"The Committee feels very strongly about this group of players as we continue to move forward with our USA Senior National Team Program," said Committee chair Rene Brown, WNBA chief of basketball operations and player relations. "We are not just looking to the next two years and our goal of reclaiming the gold medal in Beijing, we also have identified some of the top young candidates who will take the torch from our veteran leadership, from players like Sheryl, Katie and Tina, and run with it well into the future. The Committee feels that this is a very strong mix of players, from the young up-and-comers to international veterans. If you look back, that's what USA Basketball has been doing for decades -- the torch has been passed from Pat Summitt and Anne Donovan to Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain. They have lent their leadership to Lisa (Leslie), Sheryl and Dawn, who are in the process of passing it along to our next generation of players."
"I think continuity is so important in the development of the USA Senior National Team," said Donovan. "Although we don't have the benefits of extensive training as in the past, we are looking to maximize the time that we are together. By identifying a pool of players we'll be able to train extensively and evaluate the best fit for our National Team. The more that our staff and our players are able to train and play together, the better our USA National Team will be, come competition time.
"When you look at the make-up of this group, we have a lot of youth. What a benefit it is for them to be able to train with our veteran players, to learn from them on the court and off the court."
The USA Senior Team's 21 members own a combined 11 Olympic and eight World Championship gold medals, as well as numerous medals from other international competitions as all 21 members have donned a USA Basketball uniform in the past. The list also includes a pair of USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year award winners, including Augustus (2003) and Taurasi (2006).
All 17 professional players on the roster have been named as a WNBA All-Star and 14 have earned either All-WNBA first or second team honors at least once. Bird, Catchings, Smith, Swoopes and Thompson were named to the WNBA All-Decade Team, while Taurasi was an honorable mention. Three of the seven WNBA All-Star MVPs are on the list, including Douglas (2006), Swoopes (2005) and Thompson (2000); as well as three of the last seven league MVPs in Swoopes (2000, 2002, 2005); five of the last seven WNBA Defensive Players of the Year in Catchings (2005, 2006) and Swoopes (2000, 2003, 2004); and three of the last four WNBA Rookies of the Year in Augustus (2006), Catchings (2002), Ford (2003) and Taurasi (2004).
Each of the four collegiate players earned all-conference first team honors following the 2005-06 season and have been mentioned for 2007 National Player of the Year and All-America honors.
Host China and 2006 FIBA World Championship gold medalist Australia have earned automatic berths to the 2008 Olympic women's basketball tournament. Five additional teams will punch their ticket to Beijing at the 2007 FIBA zone championships as the gold medalists in each of the FIBA zones (Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania) qualify to compete in Beijing.
Teams finishing in second, third and fourth place at the 2007 FIBA Americas tournament will have one final chance to earn a spot in Beijing's 12-nation field at the 2008 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Those three nations along with nine other national teams from around the globe who did not claim gold at the remaining FIBA zones, including two from Africa (silver and bronze medalists), two from Asia (silver and bronze medalists), four from Europe (second through fourth place finishers) and one from Oceania (silver medalist), will compete for the final five Olympic slots at the 2008 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
The USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team program has evolved over the past decade ever since the historic 11-member 1995-96 USA Senior National Team spent 10 months traveling the globe in preparation for the 1996 Olympic Games. The program is a proven success. Since the 95-96 team took to the court in Oct. 1995, USA senior teams have compiled a 144-9 (.941) exhibition slate, hauled in three Olympic (1996, 2000, 2004) and two World Championship (1998, 2002) gold medals, one World Championship bronze (2006), and claimed an overall Olympics and Worlds record of 50-1 (.980).
In addition to Brown, the USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team Committee is comprised of athlete representatives Jennifer Azzi, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Championship gold medalist, and five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards; representing the NCAA is University of Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt; and appointed by the WNBA are New York Liberty vice president and general manager Carol Blazejowski, Indiana Fever chief operating officer and general manager Kelly Krauskopf, Minnesota Lynx chief operating officer Roger Griffith and Los Angeles Sparks general manager Penny Toler.