The core of what is likely to become the United States' entry in the 1996 Olympic women's basketball tournament was selected yesterday as a yearlong effort to boost the sport's image in this country officially began.
Eleven of the best women's players in the country -- including the past four consensus national players of the year -- were chosen after a week of tryouts in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Toward the goal of winning the gold medal in next summer's Games in Atlanta, USA Basketball, the governing body of this country's international efforts, is following the example of some European and Asian nations by creating a national team that will train and tour together for a year.
"I really believe that we have some of the most talented and best basketball players in the world and we need to give them the best chance of being successful," said team coach Tara VanDerveer.
In previous years, the American approach to international competition has been to throw together some of the best collegians and players returning from international play for a short time before a tournament and expect their talent to be enough to win championships.
However, the United States hasn't won a major international basketball competition since the 1988 Olympics. So USA Basketball, with corporate support from the NBA and other sponsors, formulated a plan to get a group of players together for a year to get them acclimated to the international game and to each other.
The 11 players, selected from a list of 25 invitees, included a mix of youth and international experience. Only one player, Georgia's Teresa Edwards, a three-time Olympian, is 30 years old, but every player has either played professionally or taken part in an international competition.
Each player will be paid $50,000 for the year.
Also named to the team were Dawn Staley, a three-time All-American at Virginia, and Connecticut center Rebecca Lobo, who led this year's Huskies team to an unbeaten season and the national collegiate championship.
Staley, Lobo and Edwards will be joined by Sheryl Swoopes of Texas Tech, Southern California's Lisa Leslie, Stanford's Katy Steding and Jennifer Azzi, Georgia's Katrina McClain, Auburn's Ruthie Bolton and Tennessee's Nikki McCray and Carla McGhee.