WNBA Players and Coaches Set to Participate in Tokyo Olympics

When the 2020 Olympic Games begin in Tokyo, Japan, talent from all around the globe will come together on the world’s largest stage for a two-week span to fight for an Olympic medal for their country. 

For women’s basketball, 12 countries will compete in 5×5 competition and eight countries will take part in 3×3 competition, with 3×3 play tipping off on July 24 and 5×5 play commencing on July 26.

In 5×5 competition, the 12 teams will be split up into three preliminary round groups, with Canada, Serbia, Spain and South Korea included in Group A; France, Japan, Nigeria and the United States making up Group B; and Australia, Belgium, China and Puerto Rico rounding out Group C. 

In 3×3 play, which is a half-court competition featuring teams comprised of three players on the court and one as a substitute, China, France, Italy, Japan, Mongolia, ROC, Romania and the United States will face off. 

 

Among the talent set to take the floor in both 5×5 and 3×3 women’s basketball, many WNBA players and coaches will take the court and coach from the sidelines, vying for gold, silver and bronze medals. 

Leading up to the start of the Olympic Games, let’s take a look at each country featuring WNBA representatives on their rosters and which players we should watch for in Tokyo. 

5×5 Competition 

 

United States

In the 2016 Olympics that took place in Brazil, the United States claimed its sixth straight and eighth overall gold medal, finishing with a perfect 8-0 record while beating out Spain 101-72 in the gold medal game. 

In the Tokyo Olympics, the U.S. will once again be the early favorites, and the team’s roster is stacked with WNBA talent. The American roster is made up by Las Vegas Aces’ Chelsea Gray and A’ja Wilson; Minnesota Lynx’s Napheesa Collier and Sylvia Fowles; Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner, Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith; Seattle Storm’s Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd; and Washington Mystics’ Ariel Atkins and Tina Charles

The U.S. coaching staff is also filled with individuals who have WNBA ties. Former WNBA head coach Dan Hughes, Minnesota head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve and Connecticut Sun president Jennifer Rizzotti are serving as assistant coaches for the U.S. team under former WNBA player and U.S. head coach Dawn Staley

 

Canada

Last time out, the Canadians wrapped up the 2016 Olympic Games without a medal, finishing with a record of 3-3 after falling to France in the quarterfinals. 

Canada will be represented by a few WNBA players in Tokyo, including Minnesota’s Natalie Achonwa and Bridget Carleton and Phoenix’s Kia Nurse

The Canadian team also features former WNBA players Kayla Alexander, who last played for the Lynx in 2020; Nirra Fields, who last played for the Mercury in 2016; and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, who last played for the New York Liberty in 2019. 

 

Australia

Australia will be an intriguing team to keep an eye on in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo as multiple WNBA representatives will take the court and sit on the sidelines for the Opals. In 2016, the Australian squad compiled a perfect 5-0 group play record but fell to Serbia in the quarterfinals to come up short of a medal. 

When it comes to WNBA players on the Australian team, the Opals were supposed to be headlined by Las Vegas’ Liz Cambage before she withdrew from the Olympics to focus on her mental health. Outside of Cambage, Seattle’s Ezi Magbegor and Stephanie Talbot, New York’s Rebecca Allen, Washington’s Leilani Mitchell, and Phoenix’s Alanna Smith will still take the floor in Tokyo. 

Australia also features a WNBA coach on its bench, with Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello leading Team Australia.

A handful of former WNBA players will take the floor for Australia as well, namely Cayla George, who last played for the Dallas Wings in 2018; Jenna O’Hea, who last played for the Storm in 2016; and Marianna Tolo, who last played with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2015. 

 

Nigeria

The Nigerian team could have been more dangerous than it currently is heading into the Olympics, but a decision on Monday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport squashed that possibility. Los Angeles’ Nneka Ogwumike and the Atlanta Dream’s Elizabeth Williams were trying to get added to Team Nigeria before the start of the Olympic Games, but we have since found out that won’t be the case after all. 

Even without Nneka Ogwumike and Williams, Nigeria will still be headlined by Los Angeles’ Chiney Ogwumike, leading the Nigerian team in its first Olympics since the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece.

Outside of Chiney Ogwumike, there are a few former WNBA players already on the Nigerian roster. That includes the third Ogwumike sister, Erica Ogwumike, who was drafted by New York in the third round of the 2020 WNBA Draft before being signed and then waived by Minnesota; Ify Ibekwe, who last played for the Sparks in 2017; Victoria Macaulay, who last played for the Sky in 2019; Adaora Elonu, who last played with the Dream in 2018; and Promise Amukamara, a 2015 third-round draft pick of the Mercury.

 

Belgium 

Belgium will be taking part in its first Olympic Games in the nation’s history, headlined by Washington’s Emma Meesseman and Indiana’s Julie Allemand, who has yet to play for the Fever in 2021, as WNBA players on the roster. 

Outside of Meesseman, Belgium also features former WNBA players Kim Mestdagh, who last played for the Mystics in 2019; and Ann Wauters, who last played for the Sparks in 2016. 

 

China

China will be taking part in its fifth straight Olympics, having qualified in each of the last four Olympic Games. In Brazil in 2016, the Chinese national team finished with a record of 1-4, missing out on claiming a medal. 

As it looks to win a medal for the first time since winning silver in 1992, China features a few players WNBA fans might be familiar with, including Han Xu, who was drafted by and played for the Liberty in 2019; Shao Ting, who last played with the Lynx in 2019; and Li Yueru, a 2019 third-round draft pick of the Dream.

 

France

In 2016, France finished just outside of placing for a medal, concluding with a record of 4-4 while falling to Serbia in the bronze medal game. 

In France’s third straight Olympic appearance, the French squad is headlined by Los Angeles’ Gabby Williams, who was placed on the full-season suspended list by the Chicago Sky for the 2021 season and later traded to the Sparks. 

Team France also includes former WNBA players Endy Miyem, who last played for the Lynx in 2018; Sandrine Gruda, who last played for the Sparks in 2017; Valériane Vukosavljevic, who last played for the San Antonio Silver Stars in 2015; and Marine Johannès, who last played for the Liberty in 2019. Marine Fauthoux, a 2021 third-round draft pick of the Liberty, and Iliana Rupert, a 2021 first-round draft pick of the Aces, are also on the French team’s roster.

 

Puerto Rico

Much like Belgium, Puerto Rico will be making its first appearance in the Olympic Games in Tokyo. 

The Puerto Ricans will feature a pair of former WNBA players, specifically Jennifer O’Neill, who last played for the Lynx in 2015, and Jazmon Gwathmey, who last played for the Fever in 2018. 

 

Serbia

After a strong showing in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, Serbia is making its second straight appearance in the Olympics in Tokyo. In 2016, Serbia tallied an overall record of 4-4, defeating France to claim bronze in its first-ever Olympic Games. 

Serbia has three former WNBA players on the roster, namely Sonja Vasić, who last played with the Mercury in 2016; Jelena Brooks, who last played with the Mystics in 2014; and Ana Dabović, who last played with the Sparks in 2016. San Antonio’s 2015 third-round draft pick Dragana Stanković, who never ended up playing in the WNBA, is also on the Serbian team. 

 

South Korea

From 1996 to 2008, South Korea made four straight Olympic appearances but failed to do so in 2012 and 2016 before making a return this summer in Tokyo. South Korea will try and win a medal for the second time in its history, having claimed silver in 1984.

Headlining the WNBA representatives on the South Korean team is JiSu Park, who has played for Las Vegas since 2018.

 

Spain

Spain was perhaps the biggest competition for the U.S. in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, finishing with a record of 6-2 while falling to the U.S. in the gold medal game to finish with a silver medal. 

The Spanish team will try for its second medal in history in Tokyo, headlined by Chicago’s Astou Ndour-Fall. The Spanish squad will also include former WNBA player Maite Cazorla, who last played with the Dream in 2019. 

Also on Spain’s roster is Alba Torrens, who was selected by the Sun in the third round of the 2009 draft but elected to remain with the Spanish national team instead of going to Connecticut. Additionally, Maria Conde, a 2019 third-round draft pick of the Sky who has yet to play in the WNBA, and Raquel Carrera, a 2021 second-round draft pick of the Dream, will take the floor for Spain in Tokyo.

 

3×3 Competition 

Of the eight teams filling out the field in 3×3 competition in Tokyo, there are a handful of individuals who have WNBA ties. The team with the most WNBA representatives is the United States, which will be coached by former WNBA player and Duke University head coach Kara Lawson. The U.S. team features Las Vegas’ Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young, Chicago’s Stefanie Dolson, and Dallas’ Allisha Gray

Outside of the U.S. group, the only other player who has WNBA ties in 3×3 competition is Romania’s Gabriela Mărginean, who was selected by the Lynx in the third round of the 2010 WNBA Draft but later returned overseas to play in Greece. 

In Tokyo, the WNBA will have strong representation in both 5×5 and 3×3 action when games begin this month. It will be entertaining to watch the entire field take the floor in the Olympics, but the WNBA talent spread throughout the countries set to play in Japan will be another thing for fans of the W to keep an eye on. 

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