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Originally published Thursday, May 10, 2012 at 8:03 PM

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Connecticut connection: U.S. women's basketball team features six former UConn stars

Team USA's women's basketball team, which is training in Seattle this week, features six former Connecticut stars and is coached by UConn's Geno Auriemma.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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bring home the gold, girls! MORE
what a joke, why do all the top players go to the same 3 schools, if they had any guts... MORE

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They've heard the whispers.

That's the problem with greatness. There are always people talking about you.

As the USA Basketball national team comes to Seattle on Friday for the first of four training sessions together before the London Olympics, it could simply be called the Connecticut Olympians. The squad of 12 has six former UConn stars, including Storm All-Star Sue Bird, and is led by Geno Auriemma, the legendary Connecticut coach.

"I know people are going to say things about so many UConn players because coach Auriemma's the coach," Bird said. "This is my only response — who would you leave off? That's the best way to kind of silence it."

True. The group already teamed to win the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Czech Republic, clinching the automatic berth to the Games. In the WNBA they've won a combined eight titles and five EuroLeague crowns.

The most impressive stat is that in the 13 years from Bird's freshman season through Maya Moore, who graduated in 2011, the six players combined for a 443-35 record and won six NCAA championships.

"It might look like six players may be a lot, but it's not their fault that all of them went to UConn," former teammate Svetlana Abrosimova wrote in an exchange on Twitter. She was expected to represent Russia at the Games but was omitted from consideration last week. "They're great and they proved themselves already on every level."

The Huskies invasion wasn't expected to be this heavy, though. USA Basketball announced 11 players during the NCAA Final Four in Denver in March, fully expecting to make Baylor center Brittney Griner the 12th. Carol Callan, USA Basketball Women's National team director and selection committee member, had even placed calls to notify those not chosen.

Forward Asjha Jones received one of those disappointing calls. When the team was announced March 30, the 11-year WNBA veteran tried hard to ignore the news.

"I had moved on. So, when Carol called (in April) I was wondering, 'Why is she calling me?' " Jones said. "I don't even know if she could tell how I excited I was. I'm normally even-keeled, but I was doing little jumps."

Jones, a two-time WNBA All-Star playing for the Connecticut Sun, planned to spend the leaguewide Olympic break relaxing, figuring "Olympian" would never be a title she'd claim. For a player who is the owner of an online designer shoe site, news that she was the 12th player was like slipping the glass slipper on Cinderella's foot.

Jones' addition gives the team a true power forward with a silky midrange jumper as it tries to win its fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal at London.

It's a dream team concept Bird didn't imagine was possible while playing alongside Jones, Diana Taurasi, and Swin Cash at UConn. Auriemma has said the 2002 UConn team that went 39-0 with seniors Bird, Jones and Swin Cash and sophomore Diana Taurasi was "the greatest ever."

"When you're a college kid, you're worried about practice the next day," Bird said. "Looking back, I can definitely talk about that team and how special it was — if not the best, one of the best college teams ever. It wasn't just the talent that we had, obviously it was a lot of talent, but it was the way that we played together. We could do what we did with our eyes closed.

"The only thing we'd talk about was, 'I think we could be pretty good (together) in the WNBA, too ... That was all young, talking ... for fun, nothing serious."

Well, most of the gang is back together, now, and it couldn't get more serious than the Olympics.

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.

Connecticut Connection

The U.S. Olympic women's basketball team, coached by Connecticut's Geno Auriemma, features six of Auriemma's former players. Four of them were No. 1 overall picks in the WNBA draft. (The other two, Swin Cash and Asjha Jones, were taken No. 2 and 4 in the 2002 draft, when Sue Bird was taken by Seattle with the No. 1 pick):

Pos Player/NCAA titles/WNBA team/Drafted (overall position)

G Sue Bird/2 (2000, 2002)/Storm/No. 1, 2002, Storm

F Swin Cash/2 (2000, 2002)/Chicago/No. 2, 2002, Detroit

C Tina Charles/2/ (2009, 2010)/Connecticut/No. 1, 2010, Connecticut

F Asjha Jones/2 (2000, 2002)/Connecticut/No. 4, 2002, Washington

F Maya Moore/2 (2009, 2010)/Minnesota/No. 1, 2011, Minnesota

G Diana Taurasi/3 (2002, 2003, 2004)/Phoenix/No. 1, 2004, Phoenix

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