Leaving Caitlin Clark off Team USA was reasonable roster move with gold-medal focus


Caitlin Clark was in town when Team USA held its final Olympic training camp this past April. She wasn’t in Cleveland, however, for the three-day USA Basketball Olympic workouts. She was nearby because her Iowa Hawkeyes were playing in the Final Four. Then, like now, Clark’s presence loomed large anyway.

The Olympic selection committee was in a tough spot: Go with a roster stacked with proven veterans or incorporate the highest-profile rookie in league history? There was no doubt either decision would be met with debate.

The committee revealed its philosophy with the 12-person Olympic roster — which shows deference to veterans and no rush to include Clark, who could be a significant part of the national team’s future. It favored roster continuity over the maximum exposure Clark’s presence brings.

Despite some expected (and not altogether unwarranted) dissatisfaction from Clark loyalists — the Olympic committee made a reasonable decision.

Speaking strictly basketball, the committee focused on selecting the best team for the Paris Games. It’s hard to quibble with the star-powered players they picked. The product on the floor will be elite — a roster stacked with MVPs, All-WNBA honorees and All-Stars. Nine players have Olympic experience (including Olympic 3×3 appearances). It will be favored to win an eighth consecutive gold medal.

Clark has shown flashes of stardom throughout her first month, but at times she has struggled to adjust to opponent physicality and is shooting only 32.7 percent from 3-point range. She leads the WNBA with 67 turnovers and the Indiana Fever now have as many wins (three) as Clark has technical fouls. Find a name to swap Clark for if the focus is the scoreboard. Pretty tough.

Of course, the Olympics are, in theory, a launch pad for global exposure, which is why this decision was complicated and debated. It seems safe to assume journalists from various countries around the globe would have popped into an American women’s basketball game to see Clark play (or at least take part in Olympic warm-ups) for the first time.

The Fever currently lead the WNBA in attendance, and television ratings have spiked. Following a trend in college, ESPN’s four largest ratings for WNBA games have come this season and all involved Clark’s games — an uptick that would be a logical expectation for a U.S. roster including her.

But in some respects, the committee’s decision parallels Clark’s public sentiment about all the talk around her.

“My focus is basketball,” she said Friday, echoing comments she’s made throughout the year. “Sometimes it stinks that the conversation is outside of basketball and not the product on the floor and how good they are for their teams and how great this season has been for women’s basketball.”

So, here’s a challenge to reporters who would have gone to only cover Clark or fans who were planning to tune in only to watch her. Go write about two-time defending champion A’ja Wilson. Watch Breanna Stewart sky over defenders, and take in the uniqueness and physicality of Alyssa Thomas’ game. See Kahleah Copper, a Finals MVP who proved again on Friday night that she can captivate crowds with her late-game heroics. Watch Diana Taurasi, who will be playing for her sixth gold medal. There are plenty of other reasons to watch and stories to dive into.

Like many young players included on past rosters, Clark would have played a limited role off the bench had she made the team. Even then, it’s fair to wonder how she would have fit. The committee took players who know how to play together and have shown it.

Four Las Vegas Aces (Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young) made the team. Three members of the Phoenix Mercury (Taurasi, Copper and Brittney Griner) did, too. Stewart and Sabrina Ionescu are teammates with the New York Liberty. And more broadly than exclusive WNBA connections, the committee went for a group rich with senior USA Basketball team service who have played games around the world alongside each other.

Clark is not a teammate of any of them and has not attended a senior national team camp because of her collegiate commitments.

That the committee decided to go this route isn’t a total surprise. It is a reflection of some past precedent. “That chemistry really speeds up the learning curve and the process,” committee member Seimone Augustus recently told The Athletic. Augustus speaks from playing experience as a three-time gold medal winner.

The decision is also in line with the criteria the committee is tasked with using as a framework. Evaluations are based on several factors — attitude, adaptability to internal game, likelihood of contributing to team success. Popularity is not among them.

GO DEEPER

Has Caitlin Clark lived up to the hype so far in her WNBA rookie season? Experts debate

It’s fair to wonder if Team USA’s chances of defeating Belgium, Spain, Australia, host France or any other top opponents would be impacted at all if Clark had slid onto the roster. Perhaps an executive at NBC, the Olympic’s broadcasting partner in the U.S., would make the case to the committee they should have done so, irregardless of the on-court impact.

Yet there were no easy choices here. There were bound to be tough omissions with so many deserving candidates. Clark, and other recent draftees, will likely have their moments in Los Angeles in 2028 (imagine the fan frenzy there) and Brisbane in 2032. But in 2024, continuity was favored over chatter.

Like Clark’s mindset, the committee’s focus was on basketball.

(Photo of Caitlin Clark: Greg Fiume / Getty Images)





Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top