Caitlin Clark expected to be left off Olympics women’s basketball roster: Sources

clark fever

By Shams Charania, Joe Vardon, Mark Puleo, Ben Pickman and Chantel Jennings

Indiana Fever rookie sensation Caitlin Clark is expected to be left off the 12-player Team USA women’s basketball roster for the upcoming Summer Olympics, according to sources briefed on the decision.

The main roster indicates a preference for veterans with the selection of A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Alyssa Thomas, Napheesa Collier, Jewell Loyd, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Sabrina Ionescu, Chelsea Gray and Kahleah Copper, those sources said. The U.S. women have won gold at every Olympics since 1996, and this distinguished roster of All-Stars appears positioned to be a favorite in Paris.

Seven of the 12 players have Olympic five-on-five experience and two more have 3×3 experience, so there will be only three first-time Olympians — Thomas, Copper and Ionescu. Selected players began receiving their Team USA Olympics jerseys recently.

Taurasi, who will be 42 when the Games start, will be participating in her sixth Olympics, breaking an all-time international record she held with five other players, men and women. Her Phoenix Mercury teammate Griner has played in two prior Olympics.

Stewart, a two-time WNBA MVP and two-time Finals MVP, will be competing in her third Olympics. In 2020, she averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds per game and was named the Olympic Tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Aliyah Boston, Clark’s Fever teammate and last year’s WNBA Rookie of the Year, is another young talent notably left off the roster. Clark and Brionna Jones are expected to be named as Olympic alternates, while Boston would be among logical replacement candidates if needed.

Clark is coming off a historic NCAA career at Iowa, where she became the Division I all-time leading scorer and won two National Player of the Year awards. On Friday, she hit seven 3-pointers and matched her WNBA career-high with 30 points in a win over the Washington Mystics.

In March, Clark was one of 14 players to receive an invitation to the U.S. national team’s final training camp ahead of the Summer Games. She was unable to attend as she was playing with Iowa in the Final Four, while multiple players who had put in years of service to the U.S. national program ahead of her attended. The U.S. women has held periodic training camps for national team hopefuls for years. While not mandatory, they go a long way in helping the selection committee decide which 12 will represent the most dominant basketball program — men’s or women’s.

The roster was selected by the women’s basketball committee, which includes South Carolina coach and former Team USA coach Dawn Staley, three-time Olympian and LSU assistant Seimone Augustus, two-time Olympian and Old Dominion coach Delisha Milton-Jones, Connecticut Sun president Jennifer Rizzotti and WNBA head of league operations Bethany Donaphin.

With four members of the Las Vegas Aces, this 2024 Olympic roster is reminiscent of the 2016 Olympic roster. In 2016, one-third of the team was composed of Minnesota Lynx players — Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Augustus and Sylvia Fowles — amid the franchise’s historic run of four WNBA titles in seven seasons. On a recent episode of The Athletic Women’s Basketball Show, Augustus noted how including multiple players from a single team can benefit Team USA, which doesn’t have as much training time together for its final 12 ahead of the Olympics. The 2024 roster won’t actually take the floor together until the week before July’s All-Star game.

Is Clark’s absence a surprise?

Clark being named an Olympic alternate, and not a member of the official 12-person roster, will certainly attract a lot of attention. However, it’s not entirely surprising that she didn’t make the team. The reality is the U.S. women’s basketball team, winners of seven consecutive Olympic gold medals, is the strongest collection of basketball talent in the world. Many of them have played together in the WNBA or in Olympic cycles. Clark, because of her college season, never participated at a senior national team camp this cycle, perhaps creating some questions about how she would fit in on the court. The roster is full of continuity — consider the four Aces players and three Mercury players on the roster.

It’s also hard to imagine her slow start to the WNBA season didn’t impact the decision. Though Clark has experienced some highs — on Friday night, for instance, she became the first player in WNBA history with 200 points and 75 assists through her first 12 games — she also leads the WNBA with 67 turnovers — 29 more than any other player. Her 32.7 percent 3-point shooting clip is also lower than many expected. Still, in leaving Clark off the roster, the Olympic committee appears to be accepting lower television ratings than if Clark was on the team. — Ben Pickman

Roster skews towards players with professional experience

What makes Clark’s omission — and that of her Fever teammate Boston — surprising, however, is that the Olympic team has often featured younger players who aren’t likely to be major contributors in the short term but are seen as the future of the program. That isn’t the case this year with 26-year-old Ionescu as the youngest player.

Of course, this year’s roster is rich with talent. The 2028 Olympic roster almost assuredly will be the favorite entering the 2028 Olympics as well. So even without Clark, Boston or Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard on the roster this year, it’s not as if the U.S. is behind the competition. Yet the selection committee’s roster construction philosophy is notable. — Pickman

Could Clark still participate?

One of the questions that remains unanswered is whether Gray will be available for the Olympics. She suffered a lower-leg injury in Game 3 of the 2023 WNBA Finals and is yet to play this WNBA season. However, she participated at the U.S. Olympic training camp in Cleveland, and if healthy, she likely will be the starting point guard. In theory, Clark potentially could replace Gray or sub in if any other injuries occur before the Olympics. However, once the action begins, Clark or Jones can not participate, even if a player gets injured during competition. — Pickman

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(Photo: Stephen Gosling / NBAE via Getty Images)

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