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Leslie, Staley named to 2004 Olympic team

Posted: Thursday, October 09, 2003

Lisa Leslie and Dawn Staley will team again for another shot at Olympic gold maybe for the last time.

The two WNBA veterans were among the first seven players selected Wednesday for the U.S. women's national basketball team that's expected to compete at the Athens Games next year.

Leslie, from the Los Angeles Sparks, and Staley, from the Charlotte Sting, helped the United States win Olympic gold in 1996 and 2000. They also played on gold-medal winning teams in the 1998 and 2002 World Championships.

Others named to the team were Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever, Shannon Johnson of the Connecticut Sun, DeLisha Milton-Jones of the Sparks, Katie Smith of the Minnesota Lynx and Tina Thompson of the Houston the Comets.

Houston's Van Chancellor will coach the team.

''I think we have seven tremendous players,'' Chancellor said.

The biggest name missing is the Comets' Sheryl Swoopes, who played on the 1996 and 2000 Olympic teams and twice has been the WNBA's most valuable player.

Swoopes could not make a commitment to the team at this time, but she could be one of the five players added later, said Carol Callan, who's in charge of women's programs for USA Basketball.

''We certainly are interested in Sheryl,'' Callan said.

The WNBA season will be suspended during the Olympics, which are Aug. 13-29, and probably for a couple of weeks before that so the U.S. team can practice before heading to Athens.

Starting with the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, Leslie and Staley have helped U.S. teams go 34-0 in the major international events. Leslie, 31, a five-time WNBA all-star, said she could see playing in another Olympics after 2004, noting that Teresa Edwards played in five.

Staley, 33, the women's basketball coach at Temple, said this would be her last Olympics.

''I've enjoyed the ride, definitely,'' said Staley, a 5-foot-6 guard known for her leadership, passing and fiery play. ''I'm getting up there in age. I want other athletes to experience what it is to compete in the Olympics.

''I also want them to know we don't just compete for gold medals, we win gold medals. I want to make sure it's left in good hands.''

Leslie said she was a junior in high school when she first met Staley. They've been playing together on USA Basketball teams since.

''She's the floor leader and general,'' Leslie said. ''She can lead us to gold. Having Dawn there is one reason I keep playing USA Basketball. She can help us win.''

The other players chosen are also veterans of international play. Smith and Milton-Jones played on the 2000 Olympic team in Sydney. Everyone but Thompson was on the team that Chancellor coached to the world championship in China last year.

Thompson, who has played for Chancellor during the Comets' seven years of existence, has played in numerous international tournaments.

''With the bull's-eye on your back, so to speak, we have to continue to do the things that have brought us success,'' USA Basketball president Tom Jernstedt said.

''We have to make sure that the USA team has experience playing international competition, that they are practicing together and are developing as a team.''

The team will train for four to six weeks from mid-February to mid-April and other players will be brought in to work with the seven already chosen. The final five players for the U.S. team most likely will be picked after those sessions, though Callan said one or two might be named earlier.

The national team won't officially become the U.S. Olympic team until the summer.

Callan said there will not be a spot on the team specifically reserved for a college player, though top stars such as Connecticut's Diana Taurasi and Duke's Alana Beard would be considered.

''The talents of both Diana and Alana are such that yes, either of them could be on this team,'' Callan said.



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