Strong debuts for US Olympic rookies in women’s basketball

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — It’s been an impressive start to the Rio Games for the three Olympic rookies on the U.S. women’s basketball team.

Elena Delle Donne, Breanna Stewart and Brittney Griner have all had stretches when they have taken over games as the U.S. has won its first two contests in dominating fashion. There probably isn’t another country that could have the reigning WNBA MVP coming off the bench, but that’s the role Delle Donne has played so far. She actually enjoys it.

“We’re so deep and that’s one of our many strengths, and I kind of like” coming in off the bench, said the 6-foot-5 star, who is averaging 11.5 points. “I like being able to watch the game a little bit, kind of watch from the bench, let it come to me and get out there and provide the spark.”

While this is Delle Donne’s first major tournament experience with the U.S., Griner and Stewart played for coach Geno Auriemma in the world championship in 2014.

Griner was big at the worlds, earning all-tournament honors. She’s given the U.S. a strong presence inside as neither Senegal nor Spain attempted to score much in the paint with her in the game. The 6-8 center acknowledged it took a few minutes for her to get comfortable on the court, but once she got her feet wet, she was ready.

“Once I got about five minutes into the game, basketball just kind of takes over,” Griner said. “I don’t want to say it turns into just another game, but it turns into just basketball. You’re out there playing, you know what to do.”

Stewart may be a rookie to the Olympics, but she certainly isn’t to USA Basketball. The 21-year-old has played in the fifth most games for the U.S. of anyone on the Olympic team. She’s won five gold medals at the junior level as well as one at the world championship. She has a chance to win many more over the next decade.

“She’s a newcomer to the Olympics, but certainly not to international basketball,” coach Geno Auriemma said. “Nearly everywhere she’s played she’s won.”

Stewart scored 15 points in her Olympic debut and has made seven of her eight shots in the two games. The four-time NCAA champion leads the U.S. with 12 free throw attempts.

“They could be starting on this team, there’s no question about it,” point guard Sue Bird of Olympic rookie teammates. “Their youth and I guess their lack of international experience is the one area but that will come with time. They’re playing so well and that’s why. … When Stewie and Elena come in, they’re like top five in the WNBA in scoring. When they come in it just keeps rolling.”

Next up for the Americans is Serbia on Wednesday. The U.S. took Tuesday off after playing back-to-back days.

While there will most likely be a huge roster turnover before the next Olympics with potentially half of this team retired by 2020, the young trio is a strong foundation to build on.

“They definitely are the future of this team,” Diana Taurasi said. “They are all so unique and talented.”

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