Candace Parker is out. So is Sylvia Fowles. Brittney Griner is questionable. And now Elena Delle Donne is a no-go.
With a series of injuries to several post players on the U.S. women’s national basketball team, the heavily favored Americans have suddenly been cut down to size as they prepare for the world championship that begin Sept. 27 in Istanbul.
It’s a new challenge for USA Basketball. Veteran post play has long been a strong suit, from Anne Donovan to Yolanda Griffith and Lisa Leslie.
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”Candace and Sylvia have obviously played a lot of international basketball. They’ve won World Championships, they’ve won gold medals, so not having those two is obviously a huge concern,” U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said.
The 6-foot-4 Parker, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, withdrew from the national pool to have minor surgery on her left knee. Fowles, a 6-6 center who also has won two Olympic golds, backed to take care of her ailing feet.
Even without those two stars, Auriemma’s team seemed to be fine with a lot of stellar young talent.
That depth took a hit Thursday when it was announced that 6-5 Delle Donne won’t be able to play because of a balky back that bothered her during the WNBA playoffs.
Auriemma’s still waiting to hear whether Griner will be able to play. The 6-8 center still needs doctor’s clearance for a retinal issue that forced her to miss Game 3 of the WNBA Finals. It won’t be known for a day or two whether she’ll be able to play in the world championship.
The Americans still have a lot of talent in the post, just not much experience.
Tina Charles and Candice Dupree are the only true post players left in the roster pool who have played in either a world championship or Olympics.
”Tina played really well at the world championship, she played really well at the Olympics. She obviously is capable,” Auriemma said. ”What we have to do now is make sure we get consistent points and rebounds, a consistent effort from her. It’s even more important because the people coming off the bench to help her out don’t have that, so whereas in the past it’s like, `well, if I don’t play well, so and so will pick me up.’ I don’t know that she’s got that luxury right now.”
Auriemma will turn to a young group that includes Nneka Ogwumike, Breanna Stewart, Stefanie Dolson and Jantel Lavender to help in the post.
While Stewart is only a junior at UConn, she does have a lot of international experience. She’s played in 47 games for the U.S., winning gold medals for various age groups.
”The bottom line is that we have a lot of young players and we have a lot of young post players and there’s nothing we can do about that,” Auriemma said. ”Our veterans that have been really good and have been so consistent through this run, I’m really going to lean on them and I know they’ll come through.”
The Americans are the favorites, but they have stumbled before when faced with a similar challenge.
Leslie and Griffith both withdrew late from the 2006 worlds leaving the Americans short in the post and the U.S. lost in the semifinals to Russia before winning the bronze medal. The setback is the only blemish on the Americans’ stellar record since winning gold at the 1996 Olympics.
The U.S. will play three games in France against the host nation, Australia and China over the next few days before heading to the Czech Republic for an exhibition game there. That should give Auriemma a better feel of his post players before they open up the worlds against China on Sept. 27.