'I just started bawling': How the five former Huskies reacted to making the 2021 Olympic roster

Some refused to let themselves get too excited while others couldn't contain their emotions.

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How the five former Huskies reacted to making the Olympic roster

Tina Charles is heading to her third Olympic Games after making Team USA’s 12-player roster. But when US national team director Carol Callan called to tell her she’d be going to Tokyo, Charles’ reaction was no different than when she found out she made the Olympic team for the first time in 2012.

“I’m probably maybe the only one that cries every time,” she said. “I don’t take it for granted. I just started bawling, crying just because it means a lot for me, it means a lot for my family and coaches and players along the way that have allowed me to be at this position in my career. So the fact I have an opportunity for the pursuit of the third gold medal, it’s surreal.”

Charles is one of five former UConn stars on the US roster, all of whom are at different points in their international careers. Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are going to their fifth Olympics, making them two of the most experienced athletes in any sports at the games. Meanwhile, Napheesa Collier is preparing to compete for the first time while Breanna Stewart is gearing up for her second go-around.

Still, receiving the call from Callan and finding out they made the roster was a special moment for everyone.

As the Olympics started getting closer, Bird knew she’d be getting a phone call — the national team tells everyone in the pool whether or not they made the cut — she just didn’t know which side of the line she’d fall on. Though most on the outside believed Bird would be one of the 12 players heading to Tokyo, she refused to allow herself to have any expectations.

“Even my first Olympics, I never thought one way or the other, you know?” Bird said. “I’m not bulls—ing you here, it’s like — I don’t even tell my parents when I get the call. I barely tell Megan (Rapinoe, her fiancée), when I get the call. I’m not that much different as a person as I am as a player. Not too many highs, not too many lows. I try to keep it even keel.”

Collier, naturally, let herself enjoy the moment when she found out she’d be an Olympian for the first time.

“I was really, really excited when Carol called me,” Collier relayed. “I actually got the call on the bus on the way to the airport so my team was behind me cheering and stuff. So it was really, really exciting.”

Throughout her Zoom call, Collier continuously mentioned how she’s dreamed of being an Olympian for as long as she can remember. In her mind, no other accomplishments can surpass it.

“This is definitely the top of my list,” she said. “I don’t think anything can compare to the first time you go to the Olympics because it’s such a huge milestone and it’s something I’m really proud of.”

Stewart will be entering the 2020 Olympics in a much larger role than the one she held in Rio 2016. Back then, she had just graduated from UConn and wasn’t even sure if she’d be on the team.

“Getting the call from Carol Callan (in 2016), I remember exactly where I was,” Stewart recalled. “I wasn’t sure, I was a little nervous if I was going to make it or not.”

Five years later, Stewart is the best player in the WNBA and has won practically every individual and team award under the sun. Now, she’s ready to show the world how far she’s come on arguably the world’s biggest stage.

“I think that just my growth, my maturity, realizing how I can continue to be better is something that’s grown and I can’t wait to kind of showcase that when we get to Tokyo,” Stewart said. “And I mean, winning a gold medal is a high standard so I just want to be able to do that again.”

Though Taurasi is normally one of the first names on any national team roster, there were questions about her health status after she fractured her sternum in late May. Initially, Taurasi admitted she had some anxiety about potentially missing out when the injured occurred but after sitting down with trainers, she realized she’d be back well before the Olympics.

Once that was settled, Taurasi knew she’d be part of the roster but used the situation as an opportunity to appreciate the chance in front of her.

“It’s still very special. I’ve never taken being on an Olympic team for granted, it’s always definitely an honor and it’s something I take very seriously,” she said. “It’s something that I’ve dedicated my whole basketball career to.”

All the players understand the pressure on them to win. For Team USA, coming home with anything less than gold will be a massive disappointment — especially considering the US hasn’t lost a game in the Olympics since 1992 — so basketball will obviously take precedent.

At the same time, the Olympics are such a unique event and there’s no guarantee anyone will make it back to another, so they want to enjoy the experience of the games as well.

“Playing for USA basketball at the Olympics can can be really uncomfortable because we don’t have a lot of practice time. So you’re just trying to move that process forward as much as you can, get everybody comfortable and then remind everyone to have fun,” Bird said. “I think Dee and I — especially Dee — do a good job of that, trying to keep it light, trying to have fun in the moments when you can because this is the Olympics, you want to enjoy it. You don’t want to slog through it and be stressed, you want to make sure you’re having fun with it and then the basketball that can kind of take care of itself.”


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