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US women's hoops rookies are experienced veterans

LOCALS IN LONDON

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LONDON -- Referring to the five newcomers on the US women's Olympic basketball team as rookies is a bit misleading.

Sue Bird actually finds it amusing.

"Lindsay Whalen and Asjha Jones are considered rookies, that's pretty comical," the American point guard said. "In terms of Olympic experience, it's new for them. They'll enjoy it the same way we did the first time.

"But they've faced almost everyone we'll be playing against."

Jones, Whalen, Angel McCoughtry, Tina Charles and Collins Hill grad Maya Moore will be playing in their first Olympics when the U.S. opens against Croatia on Saturday. The quintet has a wealth of international experience playing with USA Basketball in other tournaments, including for the 2010 world championship team that won the gold medal and qualified the Americans for the Olympics.

"They're old rookies," three-time Olympian Diana Taurasi said. "This team is weird because we have young veterans and old rookies. There's no sense of youngness on this team coming from anywhere."

Coach Geno Auriemma, who said this team has the potential to be one of the best women's Olympic teams ever in part because of its mix of youth and experience, says the team's international experience is invaluable.

"They've played at this level much more than I've coached at this level," Auriemma said. "So I'm constantly asking them, 'Do you think this will work?"'

The 32-year-old Jones has been playing overseas in Russia and China in the winter for the past decade. She had a stellar season this past year, earning Euro League Final Eight MVP honors.

Jones, who was added as the 12th player to the roster in late April, knows she can offer a lot to the coaching staff if needed.

"I think we can lend our experience to some of the coaches who haven't seen a lot of the players we will play against," Jones said. "We have insight they might not have. They trust us to say a few words here and there to help our defensive schemes out."

Whalen has been playing in the Czech Republic for the past five years and will be headed to play in Turkey next season. Both teams are in the Americans' pool.

"These girls have been my teammates and I've played against them," Whalen said. "You get used to their tendencies and you know what they like to do."

McCoughtry has starred in the WNBA and played in Turkey the past few years. Women's basketball players don't earn enough money in the WNBA to support themselves, so they supplement their income playing overseas in the winter where they can earn up to $1 million.

"I'm thrilled to be here, but once we step on the court it's the same as I've been doing my entire life," she said.

Moore is the youngest of the newcomers, at 23, but even she has international experience, helping Ros Casares Valencia to the Euro League championship this past winter.

"The basketball isn't any different no matter where you play it," she said. "The Olympics is obviously very special."

Besides playing for Ros Casares, Moore has been playing for USA Basketball since she was 17. She's won titles with the under-18, under-19 and world university games teams.

"We definitely know a lot about the other players," said Charles, who also played for the U.S. on the u-18 team and world university games teams. "There are always a few familiar faces I see on opposing teams."

Bird said she wouldn't offer much advice to her teammates about what to expect. There was only one experience she really wanted to prepare them for.

"The only thing I told them is in processing wear a sports bra and spandex because you'll be changing your clothes a lot," she said laughing. "Other than that just enjoy the experience."