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Thursday, May 12, 2011
U.S. women healthy for a change

By Michelle Smith

LAS VEGAS - The U.S. national women's basketball team closed its three-day camp in Las Vegas on Thursday, players heading out to prepare for the start of WNBA training camps, which open next week.

The U.S. team may gather again in October for a short session to start more seriously the process of getting ready for the 2012 Olympics in London.

The two-dozen players that gathered in Vegas will be whittled down to a tough 12 when it comes time to select the Olympic roster.

Head coach Geno Auriemma wasn't sure whether having all these players on the floor this week was a blessing or a curse. But if you are taking a glass-half-full approach, it means the core players in the U.S. Olympic pool are healthy and ready to play.

Candace Parker missed last year's world championship because of a shoulder injury. Seimone Augustus, the Minnesota Lynx star who spent part of the 2010 WNBA season recovering from knee and abdominal surgery, was also not on the roster, and Candice Wiggins was out of the pool because of a torn Achilles tendon.

All are back on the floor and healthy.

Parker had a strong training camp. Augustus was hitting shots. Wiggins, who has not played since last summer, brought energy to the floor while shaking off some rust.

"I'm good, really good," Wiggins said. "I haven't played in 10 months, haven't played at all. I jumped right in at the top, top level against the best players in the world. But to be able to be here and compete&I like that. I feel good about that."

The only player who was not ready to fully participate in camp was Connecticut Sun star Tina Charles. Charles, the 2010 WNBA Rookie of the Year, is still recovering from an ankle injury sustained overseas .

Charles spent time off to the side rehabbing during scrimmage sessions.

"I told her just to come and be here and be a part of this," Auriemma said.


Courtney Vandersloot's only previous experience with USA Basketball was in 2009 when she was cut after tryouts for the World University team.

To jump from that experience to this week, where she held her own against members of the U.S. senior national team, is a pretty remarkable jump.

Vandersloot was one of two new players invited to camp -- along with Baylor's Brittney Griner -- her invitation well-earned after her impressive run in the NCAA Tournament, leading Gonzaga to its first-ever Elite Eight.

At the Vegas camp, Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves watched Vandersloot like a proud father. "I am proud," Graves said. "I feel like I'm sitting here watching my own daughter."

Vandersloot, selected by the Chicago Sky with the third overall pick in the WNBA draft, did plenty to impress and did not look intimidated by her surroundings.

During Wednesday's scrimmage, she brought the ball up court against some of the world's best players. Instead of making the deferential pass, she pulled up and buried a nice jumper at the top of the key.

"She only does what she's good at, she just plays," Auriemma said. "She does what she knows she's good at, and she does it with a confidence level that says 'I'm good. I might not be as good as Sue [Bird] and Diana [Taurasi], but I'm good.' "

Auriemma said he likes Vandersloot's ability to grasp concepts quickly.

"You tell her once and she's got it," Auriemma said. "I think that's what helps the best point guards. They see things and they got it. She makes the right pass most of the time. If you leave her open, she knows when to shoot and when not to shoot."

Auriemma told Vandersloot that "it would be a shame" if she sold herself short because she is a lesser-known player from a mid-major college program.

"I told her to do whatever you did at Gonzaga... that's what got you here, and that's what she's done."