U.S. women's basketball team not likely to have full roster for FIBA World Cup opener

SYDNEY -- U.S. national team coach Cheryl Reeve said Wednesday it's "not likely" the team will have its full roster available for its 2022 FIBA World Cup opener Thursday morning, as the remaining members of the squad are still making their way to the country after concluding their WNBA seasons.

When asked whether Team USA could be down to just the seven players who had already been in Australia for training camp, she responded, "I don't know the answer to that, but if that's what it is, it's the super seven."

Shortly after the media availability, Team USA posted a video on social media showing that Alyssa Thomas had arrived in Sydney. And later in the evening, Thomas' Connecticut Sun teammate, Brionna Jones, had also arrived. Team USA tweeted a picture of Thomas and Jones on the court together.

The Las Vegas Aces' A'ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray were set to celebrate their WNBA title, the franchise's first, with a championship parade down the Las Vegas Strip roughly 25 hours before the U.S. is supposed to tip off World Cup play against Belgium.

The U.S. is seeking to win a fourth consecutive World Cup gold medal. Since 1995, the program has lost just one game across all Olympics and World Cup (previously known as World Championship) events, falling to Russia in 2006 World Cup semifinals.

"I think that whatever numbers we have, that's what we're going to go with," said Breanna Stewart, the most experienced USA Basketball member on the World Cup team. "We're going to make sure that our schemes are right, our scouting report is right and not looking at the disadvantages of that but the advantages of it and really make sure that we set the tone with this tournament.

"Starting off with Belgium is not an easy task, and it gives us a lot of opportunity to kind of grow especially for players that haven't had experience here. But we know we have reinforcements coming and we just need to hold it down until then."

Amid a massive changing of the guard at USA Basketball amid the retirements of Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles and absences of Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, the World Cup team has just five holdovers from the 2020 Olympic roster that won gold in Tokyo: Stewart, Gray, Wilson, Jewell Loyd and Ariel Atkins. Plum previously won gold with Team USA at the 2018 World Cup.

Thomas, Jones, Kahleah Copper, Betnijah Laney, Sabrina Ionescu and Shakira Austin will all make their Team USA debuts in a major international competition in Sydney. Laney, Ionescu and Austin are the only three players who have been with the team for the duration of its training camp, as Copper, Stewart and Loyd joined the squad in Australia following the conclusions of their WNBA seasons.

"I think that we're confident in the group that we have here," Stewart said. "It's really just picking up things as quickly as possible. There's a lot of intangibles that we can control, and that's our effort and how we push the ball, our pace, making sure that we're all locked in. And yeah, we might have seven, but it's only five on the court at a time. I think that we're more so looking forward to start playing than realizing how many we might or might not have."

As far as the players who have yet to arrive in Australia, Reeve said that the team has tried to "be respectful of their situations -- in one case, obviously a celebration, the other case, obviously the agony of defeat and working through all that," so she hasn't been trying to inundate them with USA Basketball matters prior to their arrival.

"We wouldn't find that appropriate," Reeve said. "Give them the time that they need because they are making huge sacrifices to jump on a plane right after a grueling series and a grueling WNBA season. Once they get here, they're all great players. They've done this before; they play on a variety of teams. They just say, 'hey, how do you want to guard the pick-and-roll, what do you want me to do on offense,' and they go do it. I'm always impressed with players in the WNBA, their ability to do that."

The U.S., which will play five pool play games over six games prior to the quarterfinal round, plans to take advantage of its depth once it has its full roster of players.

"It's a short-term situation," Reeve said. "So you get through those games as best you can and then obviously we'll be able to feature a little bit more as the competition goes on."