SYDNEY (AP) — A’ja Wilson, Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum won’t have much time to recover after leading Las Vegas to the franchise’s first WNBA championship.
The trio will board a plane to Australia to try and help the U.S. win a fourth consecutive women’s basketball World Cup. They will be in Las Vegas on Tuesday for a celebratory parade and then take the long flight to Australia. The U.S. begins play on Thursday against Belgium.
The Aces trio will be teammates with Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones, who they beat in the WNBA Finals that ended Sunday. Had the Finals gone to a fifth game, which would have been played on Tuesday, the roster would have looked different.
Thomas and Jones should be there in time for the Belgium game, which is in the morning in Sydney. The Aces players are expected to miss the U.S. opener.
Seattle teammates Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart bring some experience to the U.S. team that is missing Brittney Griner, who is currently in a Russian jail after being sentenced last month to nine years in prison in a politically charged drug case. The U.S. is working to secure her release.
Stewart and Loyd — along with Wilson and Plum — played on the 2018 team that won the gold medal in Spain. Stewart earned MVP honors of that tournament and is playing in her third World Cup.
That group will be joined by first-time World Cup players Ariel Atkins and Shakira Austin of Washington; Kahleah Copper of Chicago; and Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney of New York.
“My initial reaction to making the team was pure excitement,” Ionescu said. “And I think about what a blessing it is to represent Team USA. I was just super nervous going into it, but just excited to tell my family and friends that I am able to represent and play in the World Cup.”
Austin was thrilled to be on the roster coming off her rookie WNBA season.
“My gut reaction to being named to the final team was my stomach sinking,” she said. “I didn’t sleep all night. I was super excited.”
This is one of the most inexperienced groups the U.S. has had in the past two decades, during which the Americans have dominated Olympic and World Cup play. Gone are Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who have been the leaders of the U.S. team.
“We have been eagerly anticipating the 2022 FIBA World Cup and welcome the opportunities and challenges this competition presents as we face the world’s best teams,” coach Cheryl Reeve said. “The U.S. roster features some of our game’s brightest stars and I’m excited to lead this team with the goal of winning a fourth consecutive World Cup for the USA. I want to express my gratitude to everyone who was part of our highly competitive training camp and hope to work with many of them again in the future.”
Atkins and Gray joined Stewart and Wilson on the 2021 Tokyo Olympics team that won a seventh consecutive gold medal for the Americans. Plum was on the inaugural 3×3 team that also won gold in Tokyo.
The Americans are in a pool with Belgium, Puerto Rico, Bosnia and Herzegovina, China and South Korea.