July 27, 2012
The USA Basketball women's national team spent Friday in London and held a practice before heading to a welcome event that was headlined by First Lady Michelle Obama. Team USA, which is led by UConn head coach Geno Auriemma and six former Huskies, will open Olympic play on Saturday, July 28 when the team takes on Croatia at 11:45 a.m. on NBC.
Opening ceremonies are tonight in London then Auriemma, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tina Charles, Asjha Jones Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi will look to lead Team USA to its fifth-straight gold medal. UConn assistant director of video services Keith Anderson is traveling with Team USA in London and his latest entry is below.
Since arriving to London two days ago, the team has once again been on the constant move. It's been a whirlwind of a few days, and for the players, their Olympic experience is just getting started. In fact, we still haven't played a game yet. After arriving at the hotel late Wednesday afternoon, members of the team were able to unpack and settle into their rooms, which will be their new living quarters for the next three and a half weeks.
Some of the players kept it low key and stayed tight in the hotel, while others ventured out to check out the London nightlife, and the Olympic Village. The Village is the living quarters for hundreds of athletes from all over the world. It's a place where they are able to socialize, and spend time together sharing different philosophies on sports and their respective cultures.
I decided to take a walk around London. The city did a wonderful job in preparing for its guests; signs, banners, and creative Olympic advertisements can be found throughout the city. The city seems to be alive as people from all nationalities and walks of life can be found strolling the streets. The local pubs overflow onto the London sidewalks, where people can enjoy a pint of the favorite beverage.
On Thursday, the team practiced for a few hours in the early morning, and then went to a press conference. Directly following the press conference, the players and coaches went to get fitted and styled for their big debut tonight in the Opening Ceremonies. Because of space and time constraints, only the players and one representative from USA Basketball will walk in the opening ceremonies. The remaining staff and coaches will be watching in a room they have prepared for us at the hotel.
"I think we are all anxious to get in our uniforms! (laughs)," said former UConn star Asjha Jones. "We had a dress rehearsal yesterday so now we're kind of anxious to get into them and see how they look. For me, I don't know really what to expect. I know it's going to be a long day. But we are just really excited to get out there and have that experience."
I can tell the team is ready to go. Practice today was great as everyone went really hard and was totally focused. Team USA defeated Croatia by 54 points on July 21 but no one expects that to happen again.
"Croatia was missing their best player (Emanuela Salopek) when we played them the other day so they could have just played that game to get a film of Team USA, said Auriemma. "You just never know if the gap was really that big, which I don't think at all, or if they will be a different team tomorrow. We'll find out."
UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey has been assisting Team USA in its scouting efforts, gave me a little insight into what to expect from Croatia. "Playing them so quickly after just having played them in Turkey is kind of an advantage because we know exactly what we need to work on. Guard high ball screens , screens on the wings and keep Andja Jelavic from dribble penetration. We are also going to have to do a good job on Salopek. She didn't play in the last game we played against Croatia because she got married but she is their best player and leading scorer so we'll have to do a good job with her."
Earlier today, the team once again was treated to American Royalty. During what was supposed to be a players-only event, the coaches and staff were asked at the last minute to participate in a special USA ceremony featuring past Olympians and guest of honor, First Lady, Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama gave an inspirational pep talk that also promoted her campaign for healthy living.
"I'm so inspired by you and am in awe of what you all have achieved," she said. "Try to have fun; try to breathe a little."
"I'm glad we were invited to see the First Lady speak," said head coach Geno Auriemma. "It was great to get a chance to listen to her talk about some of the commitments and sacrifices these kids have made to get here and how other people are going to look up to them and emulate them in many ways. It was a reminder that the Olympics are a special event. It's not just another tournament."
"It was amazing", said Jones. "I`ve been watching her campaign to help childhood obesity over the last year or so and I think it is an awesome program. It was great to listen to her speak to how passionate she is about it and also how it's her first time at the Olympics. So it was great just to have that experience with her and she was invigorating, especially this early in the morning!"
Mrs. Obama proceeded to walk around the room and give everyone in attendance a hand shake or hug. When she got to me, I thanked her for her speech and for coming, and she made me feel like I was the only one in the room. She is an amazing, genuine figurehead for America. It may sound corny, but she made me proud to be an American.
"It was a great experience because we weren't' even sure we would be able to get into the meeting room with everyone," said UConn assistant coach Shea Ralph. "So me and Marisa (Moseley) looked in and there were two seats in the front row so we just sat in the front row and she looked at us throughout her entire speech and then at the end she came to the table where we met and it was awesome! I had no idea that was going to happen so the fact that it was a surprise made it even better."
So that brings us to the present. The team is now on its way to the Opening Ceremonies, which kick off in a few hours. And I'm on my again to explore the city on foot.
Take care Husky fans. Thanks for reading, and Cheers!