Caitlin Clark says she’s not disappointed with Olympics snub

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  • Michael Voepel, ESPN.comJun 9, 2024, 04:22 PM ET

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      Michael Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark, the No. 1 pick in April’s WNBA draft, said she is excited to root for the U.S. women’s basketball team in the upcoming Paris Olympics and wasn’t disappointed to not be on the team — but she did see it as motivation.

USA Basketball hasn’t formally released the 12 team members, but the names were leaked and confirmed Saturday by ESPN.

“I’m excited for the girls that are on the team,” Clark told reporters Sunday. “I know it’s the most competitive team in the world and I know it could have gone either way — me being on the team or me not being on the team. I’m going to be rooting them on to win gold. I was a kid that grew up watching the Olympics, so it will be fun to watch them.

“Honestly, no disappointment. It just gives me something to work for; it’s a dream. Hopefully one day I can be there. I think it’s just a little more motivation. You remember that. Hopefully when four years comes back around, I can be there.”

Indiana Fever coach Christie Sides said Clark got the news Friday she would not be on the team. Clark went on to score 30 points that night in a victory over Washington.

“The thing she said was, ‘Hey, Coach, they woke a monster,’ which I thought was awesome,” Sides said. “She’s young, she’s going to have so many opportunities in the future.”

Clark turned 22 in January. The U.S. roster does not include any players under 26, the age of New York’s Sabrina Ionescu and Las Vegas’ Jackie Young, who like Clark were WNBA No. 1 picks. It will be Ionescu’s first Olympic appearance and Young’s second — she won gold with the U.S. 3×3 team in the 2020 Games.

That age factor makes the roster for the Paris Games different from any of the previous 12 for the U.S. women, which includes 1980 when the Americans named a team but didn’t compete because the United States boycotted the Moscow Games.

The Americans have had at least two players under age 25 on every other Olympic roster dating back to the 1976 Montreal Games, when women’s basketball debuted as an Olympic sport. The youngest ever to play for the U.S. women in the Olympics was Nancy Lieberman, who was 18 in 1976. The youngest players for the U.S. in the Tokyo Games were Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson and Minnesota’s Napheesa Collier, both 24 then.

The U.S. also has a history of including the No. 1 WNBA pick in an Olympic year on the team: that happened for Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi in 2004, for Los Angeles’ Candace Parker in 2008 and Breanna Stewart (who was then with Seattle and now with New York) in 2016.

The U.S. team didn’t do that for Nneka Ogwumike (then in Los Angeles, now in Seattle) in 2012 and now also has bypassed Clark. She became the Division I career scoring leader for women or men while at Iowa, finishing with 3,951 points and making it to the national championship game as a junior and senior.

Clark’s omission has caused debate among those who think the United States is missing out on giving a young star with a huge fan following the chance to get experience now with the Olympic team vs. those who think the team didn’t have a spot for her with the talent already there. Taurasi, who turns 42 on June 11, will be playing in her sixth Olympics.

“They called me and let me know before everything came out, which was really respectful of them, and I appreciated that,” Clark said of USA Basketball officials. “They did the same for every girl that made the team or every girl that didn’t make the team. There was a lot of players in the Olympic pool, it’s not like I was the only one they had to call. They had to make quite a few calls.”

There is still the possibility of injury resulting in an alternate making the team. In the past, USA Basketball generally has not publicly announced who the Olympic alternates are. The projected roster and list of potential alternates must be submitted to FIBA, basketball’s world governing body, by about June 24.

Also, if players are named to an Olympic team, they are not automatically removed if injured before the Games. Players must agree to give up their spot if they are unable to compete.

The rosters for basketball are finalized about 24 hours before the first game of the Olympic tournament and after that can’t be changed.

Two of the Olympic veterans named to the squad, Phoenix center Brittney Griner and Las Vegas guard Chelsea Gray, both have been dealing with injuries this season. Griner played her first game of the season Friday; Gray has yet to play.

The Olympics are July 26-Aug. 11. The WNBA pauses its regular season after the games July 17 and resumes play Aug. 15. The WNBA All-Star Game is July 20 in Phoenix; it will pit Team USA vs. the WNBA All-Stars not on the Olympic team, which could include Clark.

Clark is averaging 16.8 points, 6.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds for the 3-9 Fever, who face Connecticut on Monday. While Clark would have liked to make the Olympic team, she has been going nonstop since the college season started last fall and sees a benefit in the monthlong break.

“Absolutely, it’s going to be really nice,” Clark said. “I’ve loved competing every single second. But it’s going to be a great month for my body to get rest, get healthy and just get a little time away from basketball and the craziness of everything that’s been going on. And just find some peace and quiet for myself.

“But then additionally, it’s a great opportunity for us to work and get better. A great opportunity for myself to get in the weight room. To work on the court … at things that I want to get better at that I maybe didn’t have time [to] going from college to the pro season.

“So I’m looking forward to it. But at the same time, we still have a month of games [ahead] where we have a lot of opportunities to win a lot of games. That’s where my main focus is.”

The decision to leave Clark off the roster was first reported by The Athletic.

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