Three ND players on USA team

Published 10:18 pm Wednesday, August 3, 2011

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — For the first time in the 35-year history of the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, three Fighting Irish players have been selected for the same USA Basketball team.

Wednesday afternoon, USA Basketball announced that Notre Dame junior guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington), senior guard Natalie Novosel (Lexington, Ky./Lexington Catholic) and fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters (Chicago, Ill./Fenwick) all have made the final cut for the 12-player United States World University Games Team, which will compete Aug. 14-21 in Shenzhen, China.

The Fighting Irish trio had returned to the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC) in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Sunday to resume practicing with the squad, with the understanding that two of the team’s 14 finalists would have to be cut at some point this week by the USA Basketball Women’s Junior National Team Committee, which is chaired by Sue Donohoe, the NCAA’s vice president for Division I women’s basketball.

“We are just ecstatic to hear that Skylar, Natalie and Devereaux will be playing for Team USA at the World University Games,” Notre Dame’s Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “It’s obviously a historic day for the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, and it’s a testament to their work ethic, their determination and their desire to compete and be successful. To see the three of them be recognized and rewarded for their hard work, that’s especially gratifying. We’re all looking forward to watching them represent our country with pride and bring home the gold, along with a great deal of international experience for next season.”

The now-complete United States World University Games team is coached by Iowa State University skipper (and former Notre Dame assistant coach) Bill Fennelly, while Duquesne’s Suzie McConnell-Serio and Georgetown’s Terri Williams-Flournoy serving on Fennelly’s staff. Team USA will continue practicing in Colorado Springs through Sunday night, leaving the following day for China to complete preparations for the World University Games.

“Getting the group down to 12 is one of the hardest things I’ve done in my lifetime, in coaching anyway,” Fennelly said. “You have 14 people who worked very hard at it, who were very committed to it and it’s not something like they weren’t good enough. It’s about trying to build a team with some versatility. It was very, very hard, but I’m very happy for the 12 young people who made it. They’ll do a great job representing USA Basketball and ultimately that’s what this is all about.

“There’s a step to this,” he continued. “When you had 14, there were things you didn’t want to get into, because they may not be here. They were all on a little bit of an edge, because they don’t know if they’re on the team or not. Some kids handle that differently. They play passive because they don’t want to make a mistake. It’s the whole idea of playing not to lose the game rather than playing to win the game. Now, they know they’re on the team and hopefully after their initial excitement, they can relax and refocus on figuring a way to win. We know the combinations, we know the people we’re going to work with now. It is a process, but I think moving from now until we leave the training center, I think we’ll be focused a lot differently on preparing and practicing for the task at hand, getting ready to play and building a team.”

The United States side will conduct a pair of scrimmages prior to the 16-team tournament, taking on Brazil (Aug. 10, 6:30 a.m.) and Australia (Aug. 12, 2:30 a.m.) at the Longgong (China) Sports Center. The World University Games women’s basketball competition gets under way Aug. 14 (Aug. 13 in the U.S.), with Team USA facing Brazil at 10 p.m. in the Universiade Main Gym. The Americans also will take on Slovakia (Aug. 14, 10 p.m.) and Great Britain (Aug. 16, 6 a.m.) at the same arena during preliminary round play, with the top two teams in each of the four pools advancing to the quarterfinals.

After a day off, the World University Games quarterfinals will be held Aug. 18. The medal semifinals take place the following day, and the contests for the gold and bronze medals scheduled for Aug. 21. Exact tip times and sites for the final three rounds of the tournament will be determined based upon team finishes during the preliminary round.

Along with the three Notre Dame selections, the BIG EAST Conference had a fourth player chosen for this year’s USA World University Games Team as DePaul’s Keisha Hampton also made the squad. Collectively, the four-player BIG EAST contingent (not counting assistant coach Williams-Flournoy) is the largest from one conference on the final 12-player roster, with the newly-expanded Pac-12 Conference next up with three selections.

The Pac-12 also featured one of the other two schools to have multiple players chosen, as Stanford’s Chiney and Nnemkadi Ogwumike joined Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen of Southeastern Conference member Tennessee on the United States World University Games Team. Rounding out the American roster are Elena Delle Donne (Delaware), Jacki Gemelos (USC), Lynetta Kizer (Maryland) and Odyssey Sims (Baylor).