Eight WNBA stars named to USA worlds team

Former University of Connecticut teammates Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are among the first eight members of the 2006 USA Women's World Championship team.

UConn was the only program with more than one former player named to the team's core group, which was announced Tuesday after being selected by USA Basketball Women's Senior National Committee and approved by the USA Basketball Executive Committee.

Joining Bird, who stars for the WNBA's Seattle Storm, and Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury) in the core group are three-time Olympic gold medalists Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles Sparks) and Sheryl Swoopes (Houston Comets), two-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Smith (Detroit Shock), 2000 Olympic gold medalist DeLisha Milton-Jones (Washington Mystics), Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever) and Tina Thompson (Houston Comets).

"It never gets dull, it never gets boring. I always feel there
is something I can contribute," the 35-year-old Swoopes said. "We
all understand it's going to be tough."

All eight were unanimous choices by USA Basketball, selection
committee chair Renee Brown said.

"They know how to work together," Brown said. "Those eight,
we feel very good about them."

The U.S. women will defend their World Championship title at the 15th FIBA World Championship, Sept. 12-23 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Behind the play of 2002 FIBA World Championship MVP Leslie, as well as Bird, Catchings, Milton-Jones, Smith and Swoopes, the United States captured the 2002 gold medal. Team USA also won the 1998 World Championship crown.

"This is a tremendous group of core players, with extensive experience in bringing home the gold," Anne Donovan, head coach of the USA team and the Seattle Storm, said. "With this group, I know we are assured of going to battle in the World Championship with our best and most proven veterans. These players understand the drive, preparation and commitment that we need to stay on top. I am confident that these experienced Olympians will set the pace for yet another gold."

The United States owns a record-seven gold medals, one silver and one bronze at the World Championship, while compiling an 80-20 (.800 winning percentage) record, including a 19-0 winning streak that dates to the 1994 bronze-medal game.

The committee will use part of the WNBA season to evaluate players for the final four roster positions, which will be announced later this summer.

Donovan will be assisted on the sidelines by Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault and collegiate head coaches Gail Goestenkors of Duke and former Olympian Dawn Staley of Temple.

The United States will compete in Group C along with China, Nigeria and Russia. Preliminary-round games are scheduled for Sept. 12-14, and the top three teams from each of the four preliminary round groups will advance to the second round for the right to advance to the medal round quarterfinals.

Placed in Group A were Argentina, host Brazil, South Korea and Spain; Group B includes Australia, Canada, Lithuania and Senegal; while Group D consists of Cuba, Czech Republic, France and Chinese Taipei.

Bird has been a member of Team USA since 2000. Taurasi was the youngest player on the 2004 U.S. Olympic squad.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.