Angel McCoughtry was one of 12 players to make the United States women's basketball national team for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The Baltimore native certainly justified her selection by ranking second on the team in scoring with 10.9 points per game in helping the U.S. capture the gold medal.
McCoughtry is now a veteran of USA Basketball, having helped the national team compile a 17-0 record and also earn a gold medal at the 2010 FIBA World Championship. However, the St. Frances Academy product certainly does not consider herself a lock to make Team USA again for the current cycle, which begins in earnest with the 2014 world championships in October.
"It's always difficult because there are so many great players. That's one of the great things about our country, the talent pool is so deep. That isn't the case in a lot of other countries," McCoughtry said. "You just have to come out here and compete hard while trying to have fun doing it. You can't get too stressed because when you do you mess up even more."
McCoughtry enjoyed a decorated collegiate career at Louisville, which she led to the NCAA Division I national championship game in 2009. The 6-foot-1, 160-pound wing was named first team All-American and Big East Player of the Year as a senior.
Drafted No. 1 by the Atlanta Dream, McCoughtry was the WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2009 and is a three-time WNBA All-Star. That she has been named to the league's All-Defensive First Team the past four years speaks to the greatest strength of the 2003 Baltimore Sun Player of the Year.
Despite all the accolades she has received, McCoughtry said without hesitation that "to be able to represent my country at the London Olympics was the best accomplishment of my career." She will never forget the day it became official.
"I was so happy. I had been praying so hard that I would make it. To see my name on the list was an incredible feeling," McCoughtry said.
"But the first thing Coach (Geno) Auriemma said was to not get too comfortable or complacent. You have to be humble and continue to word hard because everybody is fighting for a position. What you've done in the past doesn't mean anything now. Just because I was on the team before, it doesn't give me an upper hand."
McCoughtry's performance on the world's greatest stage is the best supporting argument for her cause. She led all competitors in the 12-team Olympic field with a .620 field goal shooting percentage and posted the second-best steals average of 2.5.
"Angel is one of my favorite players to coach because she's really passionate about the game. I really enjoy being around Angel because she's unique," said Auriemma, in his second stint directing the national team. "Angel's a very disruptive influence on the floor, both offensively and defensively. She's just one of those players that has a knack for creating and causing the opponent problems."
McCoughtry is among 24 players chosen for USA Basketball women's world championship team training roster. Only 17 of those invited participated in the opening session held this past week at the Naval Academy as seven are still involved with the WNBA Finals.
Onlookers marveled at the impressive collection of talent on the floor at Navy' Halsey Field House during practice session this week. Maya Moore, the 2014 WNBA Most Valuable Player, was swishing jump shot after jump shot. Seimone Augustus, who has led the Minnesota Lynx to a pair of WNBA championships, was putting on a dribbling display. Even a relatively unheralded player such as Danielle Robinson (San Antonio Silver Stars) was wowing fans with behind-the-back, between-the-legs and no-look passes.
Auriemma and his staff have the difficult task of cutting the training camp roster in half for the world championships, being held in Istanbul, Turkey.
"It's not going to be easy. Getting to this number wasn't as easy as it was in the past. In years past, it might have been very simple to figure out who were the best 12 players in the country," Auriemma said. "Now, you get to 20 and you're still saying 'What about this guy and what about that guy?' We're in an enviable situation in terms of overall talent. We have many more choices than we did even eight years ago."
Four members of the 2012 Olympic team are not available to USA Basketball this time around. Swin Cash and Aja Jones have both retired while Tamika Catchings and Candace Parker are currently injured.
"At a minimum, there are four spots available. There may be more," Auriemma said. "There's an assumption that just because you were on the 2012 Olympic team that you'll be on the world championship team. That wouldn't be fair to all the other players that are trying out."
However, in the next breath Auriemma said he has great loyalty to players like heady point guard Sue Bird and versatile wing guard Diana Taurasi, both of whom have been members of three Olympic gold medal squads.
"Those that made the Olympic team in 2012 have to play their way off. If they don't do what we ask and are not as good as we expect, they'll be left behind," Auriemma said. "But the others have to play their way onto the team. They're not getting any benefit of the doubt."
Among the newcomers seeking to earn coveted spots on the 12-player roster are dominating 6-foot-8 center Brittany Griner (Phoenix Mercury), high-scoring 6-5 forward Elena Delle Donne (Chicago Sky), 6-4 rebounding machine Chiney Ogwumike (Connecticut Sun) and flashy point guard Skylar Diggins (Tulsa Shock). Delle Donne was the 2013 WNBA Rookie of the Year, Ogwumike was the 2014 Rookie of the Year, Griner was the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year while Diggins was the 2014 Most Improved Player.
"Coach Auriemma was saying the other day that there are more than 12 women on this team that could go to the Olympics and do really well. You could close your eyes and pick a strong squad," Diggins said. "As a younger player, I'm approaching this as a student and trying to pick everyone's mind and learn as much as I can while I'm out here. It's an honor to be included in this group and I'm just trying to get the most I can out of it regardless of what happens."
Auriemma said some of the up and coming talent may have to wait until the next cycle in order to represent the U.S. on the international stage. He recalled that legendary players such as Bird, Taurasi and Catchings once sat the bench for Team USA.
"Sue, Diana and Tamika… their first go-round they sat the bench, hardly ever played. That's because they couldn't get Dawn Staley, Lisa Leslie and Theresa Edwards out of the lineup," Auriemma said. "Sue, Diana and Tamika had to wait their turn. Now they are the proven veterans and others have to wait their turn."