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USA Basketball said her experience was a major reason Caitlin Clark was not included on the U.S. women’s basketball roster for the Olympic Games, which was officially announced on Tuesday.

The selection committee felt that the talented Clark did not have enough high-level experience to be included in the group traveling to the Paris Games. The team includes seven players from the group that won gold in Tokyo – the seventh consecutive gold medal for the Americans.

Selection committee chairwoman Jen Rizzotti said the committee was aware of the outside noise and pressure to select Clark, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft who has brought millions of new fans to the sport since her record-setting college career at Iowa to now with the Indiana Fever.

“Here’s the basketball criteria we were given as a committee, and how do we evaluate our players based on that?” Rizzotti said in an interview with the Associated Press. “And when you base your decision on criteria, there were other players that were harder to cut because they met a lot more criteria. Then sometimes it comes down to position and style of play for Cheryl (Reeve), and then sometimes it comes down to a vote.”

Diana Taurasi is back for a record sixth time. Her Olympic career began as a WNBA rookie at the 2004 Athens Games, and now the 42-year-old will be back on the team. Other returnees from the Tokyo Olympics include Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray, Napheesa Collier, Jewell Loyd and Brittney Griner.

In addition to the returnees, the Americans have also added 5-on-5 newcomers Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young, who helped the USA win its first 3×3 gold at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Several Olympic newcomers will join the team with Alyssa Thomas, Sabrina Ionescu and Kahleah Copper. All three played on the American team that won the World Cup in Australia in 2022.

“It’s a great mix of talent of all types, in terms of individual ability,” said Jim Tooley, CEO of USA Basketball. “We have veterans, newcomers and guys in the middle. Good perspective and continuity is so important and the reason we’ve been so successful in the Olympics.”

All twelve of these players had experience in the senior national team. Clark, however, did not, which is not her fault.

“She will definitely get better and better,” Tooley said. “I really hope she will play a big role in our careers in the future.”

The selection committee has a set of criteria for selecting the team, which include playing ability, position and adaptability to international play. Marketing and popularity are not on that list.

“It would be irresponsible of us to talk about her in any way other than her impact on the team’s play,” Rizzotti said. “Because it wasn’t our committee’s job to decide how many people would watch or how many people would cheer for the U.S. It was our job to put together the best possible team for Cheryl.”

Clark wasn’t the only talented player not on the team.

Ariel Atkins was on the Tokyo Olympic team. Shakira Austin, Betnijah Laney-Hamilton and Brionna Jones all played on the 2022 World Cup team. Aliyah Boston and Arike Ogunbowale have been at almost every training camp. Ogunbowale has played well to start the WNBA season, averaging 26.4 points per game – the second-best in the league.

Any of those players, plus Clark, could be used as backups if one of the team’s 12 members is unable to play. There are some questions about Gray’s status. The point guard from Las Vegas has not played this season as she recovers from a leg injury she suffered in last year’s WNBA Finals.

Clark has said she will use her non-selection for the Paris Games as motivation to improve and possibly make the 2028 Olympic team.

“I think it just gives you something to work for,” Clark told reporters after practice Sunday. “It’s a dream. Hopefully I can be there one day. I think it’s just a little more motivation. It’s something you remember. Hopefully I can be there when I’m back in four years.”

While Clark will not travel to Paris, Griner will play internationally for the first time since she was held in a Russian prison for 10 months in 2022. She said she will only play abroad with USA Basketball.

“When you represent your country, you’re on the highest stage, it doesn’t get any higher than that,” Griner said. “When you wear the red, white and blue flag of the United States on your chest, every country gets its best. … You’re playing for so much more. I can’t wait to go there.”

Thomas was looking forward to her first chance to compete in the Olympics.

“It’s a great honor. I’ve been away from USA Basketball for a while, but I grew up watching it with my family,” said Thomas, 32. “It’s just an honor to be part of this group of players. It’s a prestigious group.”

Thomas gives Reeve the versatility to defend any position and also assist from the forward position. The Connecticut Sun forward currently leads the WNBA with 8.5 assists per game.

“This team fits my style of play. The defensive aspect, the way Coach Reeve wants to play, I think I fit perfectly.”

Taurasi, who turned 42 on Tuesday, will break the record for most Olympic Games appearances in basketball, with five players, including her former teammate Sue Bird, having competed in five games.

“Diana does something I’ve never seen anyone else do: She gives everyone around her confidence and lets them play their best,” Rizzotti said. “Whether she’s scoring a point, whether she’s in the starting lineup, whether she’s getting limited playing time or whether she’s just a voice in the locker room, she gives people a level of confidence that was a factor in our win,”

The U.S. team will train in Phoenix for about a week in July, then play a friendly against Germany in London before heading to France.

In Paris, the Americans will face Japan, Belgium and Germany in the Olympic group game.

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AP coverage of the Paris Olympics https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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