I became a women’s basketball fan 20 years ago. Not coincidentally,my interest in the women’s game corresponded exactly with meeting my wife, who, at the time, was in charge of all the women’s programs for USA Basketball. I went to Moscow to broadcast the Goodwill Games for Turner Sports and came home in love and a women’s hoops fan.
Anne Donovan, a lanky 6-foot-8 center, was a star player on that 1986 Goodwill Games team, so I watched with great interest as she moved into the coaching ranks of the WNBA and led the Seattle Storm to the 2004 WNBA championship. Her success as a tactician, teacher and motivator, coupled with her vast international experience, earned her the honor of coaching the USA team for the 2006 world championships and the 2008 Summer Olympics.
I watched in dismay last weekend as her USA team was upset by a focused, motivated Russian squad in the semifinals of the world championships in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Unlike the USA men, our women have dominated the international scene in recent years, boasting a 50-game win streak in world championship and Olympic competition. The women have captured gold medals at the last two world championships and the last three Olympics.
This loss, therefore, was unexpected and disappointing. The women did regroup and kicked the living daylights out of Brazil 99-59 in the bronze-medal game in front of a hostile home crowd of more than 10,000 fans. Both our men’s and women’s world championship teams responded admirably after their devastating semifinal losses and neither team returned home empty-handed. Bronze medals are always better than no medals.
Unfortunately, both men and women must now participate in zonal tournaments in order to qualify for the Beijing Olympics — winning gold at the worlds would have automatically qualified them. If nothing else, these tournaments will give our teams some additional training time and international game experience. I hope that the players who plan to participate in 2008 will make it a priority to set aside the time to compete in these tournaments. It is imperative that our teams train and work with each other as other countries do. We cannot expect to just show up and win anymore.
I know that neither our men’s nor our women’s teams are satisfied coming home with bronze medals from this year’s world stage. We have too much pride in our abilities and too much rich history of excellence. We have been the best, we must believe that we can be the best again and then we just have to go out and prove it. I’m betting on two Olympic gold medals in 2008.