DALLAS -- The United States women's basketball team has won the gold medal in the past four Olympics and six of the past seven. So what would be a bigger shock, for the women or the men to come home without a gold medal from London?
"I'm hoping that enough people are watching what we're doing that if we don't win, they'll be absolutely shocked," U.S. women's coach Geno Auriemma said. "Because you know the majority of the entire world will be watching our men. And I would also venture to say that the majority of the world hopes our men lose. They won't be shocked, they'll be happy. For us, I think the perception is there is no way we can lose and they'll be very, very surprised if we don't win the gold medal."
"I can't necessarily speak for the world," U.S. and former Connecticut forward Maya Moore said, "but I will be shocked if anything less than the gold comes back."
Auriemma said Baylor star Brittney Griner had a good chance of being selected for the final spot on the Olympic squad before she took herself out of the running. Griner announced in a press release that she could not play due to an unspecified family illness and issues with her summer school schedule.
"It is unusual," Auriemma said. "It's hard to put yourself in their shoes, but people have to make a decision based on what is best for them at that point in time. Maybe they come to regret that decision, maybe not. Maybe they get another two, three or four opportunities down the road, maybe not. But for some of these players, this is once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"For the non-basketball players -- they don't get selected, they have to earn their opportunity. They have to win sprints or win swim meets -- it's not like being a basketball player where you get a phone call, 'Would you like to be on the Olympic team?' You have to commit your whole life and it comes down to one-tenth of a second. Where you've been preparing your whole life for that one moment and it's gone. I think basketball players take it for granted that, 'Oh yeah, as long as I keep playing well, I'll always have a chance to play in the Olympics.' And that's not always the case."
Auriemma will have a very familiar roster given that exactly half of the 12-player roster played for him at UConn: Moore, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Asjha Jones, Swin Cash and Tina Charles.
"With the limited amount of time that we have to prepare, there is a familiarity that has carried over throughout the years," Auriemma said. "More importantly, having 10 of the 12 players from the 2010 world championship team come back and play in the Olympics is more significant than having the six UConn players. Obviously, I have a connection and relationship with the six players from UConn, but getting those 10 players to come back, that's what gives us the edge over some of the other teams."
Auriemma said the top challengers to the U.S. for gold are Australia (which has won the past three silver medals) and Russia, but neither team medaled at the 2010 world championships and Auriemma said that's evidence of how the women's game has grown worldwide. Not that everyone necessarily buys that. One reporter asked Auriemma if the women's game would grow faster if the U.S. wasn't so dominant.
"I get asked that question all the time at UConn," Auriemma said. "I get it a million times. 'Wouldn't it be better if someone other than UConn won the national championship?' Well, we've tried to accommodate that the last few years. We're doing our part to grow the game.
"But when you set a certain standard for excellence and how the game should be played, you are growing the game. You are challenging people to reach that standard, that level. If someone does come along and beats the U.S. in the gold-medal game or any Olympic game, then we will have had a big part in why that happened, in growing the game to that level. That's why we have to get better."
Auriemma stressed that the world is changing rapidly and the days of one country dominating in one sport are either over or close to over. "But we're going to hang on as long as we can, right Maya?"