USA Basketball is like a jeweler visiting the world's largest diamond mine. With so many gems, even some amazing ones inevitably get left behind. That's the case with the Tokyo Games, as it is with every Olympics.
Especially on the women's side, where many top players commit to the U.S. national team for multiple Olympic cycles, competing in the Summer Games is an honor that even some of the best players in WNBA history haven't been able to achieve.
The reasons vary. Due to injuries or a glut of stars at a similar position, the timing just hasn't worked for some. Because so many American women play overseas where there is often a financial advantage to having a second passport, they might opt for expedited citizenship that includes playing for another national team, taking themselves out of the U.S. pool.
And as with anything that involves subjectivity and decision-making behind closed doors, there's always speculation that the college/pro teams that players are affiliated with can be an advantage or disadvantage in selection. When people talk about USA Basketball "politics," that's what they're referring to -- even if the organization itself says such affiliations don't matter.
USA Basketball says its sole aim is putting together the best team possible to win the gold medal, which doesn't necessarily mean combining the 12 best players at that time. It's about which 12 will play most successfully as a team. Having won the last six Olympic tournaments, the American women have been a smashing success, and so many great WNBA players have been Olympic gold medalists.
But as Team USA seeks another gold in Japan, we look at 12 of the best American WNBA players who have never played for the United States in the Olympics. Almost all of these players competed or tried out for USA Basketball teams, and some played in the other major hoops competitions such as the FIBA Women's World Cup (previously known as the World Championship). And one player on our list was an Olympian, just not for the United States.
Everyone here spent at least seven seasons in the WNBA, and while some are still active players, we don't include anyone under 30 who hasn't been a U.S. Olympian yet but still might be.
1. Nneka Ogwumike, forward
Ogwumike's omission from this year's team was one of USA Basketball's most controversial Olympic decisions, ending her association with the organization, which began in 2008 on a U18 team. She got her release and attempted to join the Nigerian national team, a quest that is ongoing, although she won't play for D'Tigress in this Olympics.
The former No. 1 draft pick, who has spent her WNBA career with the Los Angeles Sparks, is the only MVP in league history who hasn't played in the Olympics (that includes Lauren Jackson with the Australian national team). Ogwumike won gold medals with the senior national team at the FIBA Women's World Cup in 2014 and '18.
She was signed as one of eight so-called core U.S. members for the Tokyo Games in 2019, which made her subsequent omission more puzzling. She said she was given a mixed message: that the selection committee was concerned about her knee injury but also sought to go with a "younger, more versatile player." Yet in previous Olympic cycles, Ogwumike was bypassed for older players. Ogwumike not making an Olympic team through three cycles in which she should have been considered a candidate also has brought up questions about elements of the selection process.
2. Candice Dupree, forward
The No. 6 pick in the 2006 draft out of Temple, where she played for current Team USA coach Dawn Staley, Dupree has made more two-point field goals (2,779) than anyone else in WNBA history. She also averaged double-figure scoring each of her first 15 seasons. Like Ogwumike, Dupree won gold with two FIBA World Cup teams (2010 and 2014), leading the 2010 U.S. squad in rebounding (6.0).
She has been in the league for four Olympic cycles, although she wasn't a realistic candidate this year. One of Dupree's best statistical seasons was 2008, but at 23 then, she was overshadowed by veterans for Olympic selection. Her best chance might have been 2012 after that strong 2010 World Cup performance, but knee issues during the season limited her to 13 WNBA games. That said, the 2012 Olympic team was finalized in April, before the WNBA season started. Possibly also impacting Dupree's omission then was the fact that six players from UConn, including two at Dupree's position, made then-coach Geno Auriemma's first of two Olympic teams.
Some might point to Dupree's lack of 3-point shooting -- she has made just 30 treys in her 16-season WNBA career -- as a factor, but that should be put in context with the strengths she brought in her opportunities to the national team. Dupree began this WNBA season with the Seattle Storm and just signed with the Atlanta Dream this week. It's the fifth WNBA team for the seven-time All-Star who won a league title with the Phoenix Mercury in 2014.
3. Courtney Vandersloot, guard
The longevity of Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who are both going for their fifth Summer Games gold, impacted the Olympic chances of a lot of U.S. guards, including Vandersloot. She began her WNBA career with the Chicago Sky as the No. 3 pick out of Gonzaga in 2011, nine years after Bird's WNBA tenure had begun and seven years after Taurasi's did. Yet they were still going strong in 2016, as was Lindsay Whalen, who had come into the league in 2004 like Taurasi. That trio made the U.S. squad for the Rio de Janeiro Games, as they had for the London Games in 2012.
At age 27 in 2016, Vandersloot wasn't sure she'd get another shot to play for the United States in the Olympics, so the following year she made the tough decision to leave USA Basketball and join the Hungarian national team. However, Hungary didn't qualify for the Tokyo Games. Interestingly, 2017 also was the year that Vandersloot took her game to another level. She's now in her fifth consecutive season of leading the WNBA in assists, and she's also in her fifth season of averaging double-digit scoring after doing that just once during her first six years in the league.
Considering Whalen retired after the 2018 season, might Vandersloot -- now 32 -- have made the Olympic team his year if she had stayed in the U.S. pool? Perhaps, but she also might have experienced the same thing Ogwumike did: another disappointment.
4. DeWanna Bonner, guard/forward
You could say this about several people on this list: If Bonner were from any other country, she might have played in multiple Olympics by now. She has been one of the most consistent WNBA players since being selected fifth overall in 2009 out of Auburn, averaging double-digit scoring in all 12 seasons she has played (she missed 2017 having twins).
But from a timing and personnel standpoint, Team USA and Bonner were never quite in sync. She was a reserve her first three WNBA seasons, and then the London Olympics team was already picked before her best season statistically (2012) had even started. Bonner went to a USA training camp in 2013, but missed a World Cup camp in 2014 when she was playing in the WNBA Finals with Phoenix. And in 2016, two other players who, like Bonner, could play either forward position -- Elena Delle Donne and Breanna Stewart -- were named to the Olympic team.
Bonner, now with the Connecticut Sun, has never seemed upset about this. She has two WNBA titles, two adorable daughters and will try to help the Sun win the first Commissioner's Cup on Aug. 12 vs. Seattle. She also was on Team WNBA for the All-Star Game this year, so that victory over the Olympic team in Las Vegas on July 14 was kind of a gold-medal moment for her.
5. Rebekkah Brunson, forward
The only player in WNBA history with five titles -- one with the now defunct Sacramento Monarchs and four with the Minnesota Lynx -- Brunson was the league's all-time rebounding leader until she was passed last season by former Lynx teammate Sylvia Fowles. Brunson averaged 9.2 PPG in her career, but her rebounding and defense would have been two of her biggest assets for an Olympic team.
Like Dupree, Brunson's best chance was 2012; she was in the pool of finalists for the London Games and was coming off her second WNBA title as an All-Star starter for the Lynx in 2011. While the Olympics was not in the cards for Brunson as a player, she's now an assistant coach for Minnesota, and the Lynx's Fowles (making her fourth Olympics appearance) and Napheesa Collier are both competing in the Tokyo Games.
6. Becky Hammon, guard
Hammon is the one player on this list who did compete in the Olympics -- twice, in fact: in 2008, winning a bronze medal, and 2012. But both times, she represented Russia, where she had obtained citizenship in late 2007. Earlier in 2007, Hammon had not been listed in the pool for the U.S. team for the 2008 Olympics. When USA Basketball later invited Hammon to try out for the American squad, she felt she didn't have a realistic chance to make it.
Getting Russian citizenship also helped Hammon make more money playing professionally overseas, which is the case for some other players on this list, too. Hammon, who spent her WNBA career with the New York Liberty and San Antonio Stars, took some heat from those who thought she was being unpatriotic playing for the country that had long been the United States' Cold War adversary. But Hammon thought there was nothing wrong with experiencing her Olympic dream with a national team that needed and wanted her when, in her estimation, the United States didn't.
Incidentally, Hammon's situation was different from Ogwumike's in two ways: Hammon's only USA Basketball experience had been in a non-FIBA event, so she was not bound to the United States. Once Hammon had Russian citizenship, there was nothing preventing her from playing for Russia. Ogwumike, by contrast, played in two FIBA World Cup competitions with Team USA before attempting to play for Nigeria. Also, Hammon had no genetic tie to Russia, while Ogwumike's parents are both from Nigeria.
7. Alana Beard, guard/forward
The No. 2 pick by the Washington Mystics in the 2004 draft, Beard's WNBA career was defined by two different periods. Her first seven seasons, she averaged double figures as a top-notch defender. Her last seven seasons, she never averaged more than 8.5 PPG but took it to another level defensively, twice winning Defensive Player of the Year. It was during that first stage of her career that she played for the U.S. national team that took bronze in the 2006 FIBA Women's World Cup.
In spring 2007, Beard suffered a shoulder injury playing overseas with USA Basketball. She eventually needed surgery after the 2007 WNBA season for a torn labrum; still, she averaged 18.8 points that season, and 16.1 in 2008, an Olympic year in which she wasn't one of the guards taken for the Beijing Games.
Then Beard lost two seasons -- 2010 and '11 -- dealing with a severe ankle injury that could have ended her career. It did end her stay in D.C. and her chance to make the 2012 Olympic team, which was chosen before her comeback season later that year in Los Angeles. By 2016, she wasn't really an Olympic candidate, but that year brought the former Duke All-American a WNBA title.
8. Taj McWillliams-Franklin, forward
McWilliams-Franklin's career has similarities to that of Tari Phillips on our honorable mention list. Both transferred during college and finished their scholastic careers playing very well but under the radar: McWilliams-Franklin at St. Edwards, where she was NAIA player of the year, and Phillips at Central Florida when it was still pretty new to Division I. Both played extensively overseas and then in the ABL before being taken by the Orlando Miracle in the 1999 WNBA draft.
Both also made a major USA Basketball team: McWilliams-Franklin was on the 1998 FIBA Women's World Cup squad and Phillips played in the 2002 World Cup, both winning gold. McWilliams-Franklin spent 14 seasons in the WNBA, playing in the league until age 41. She played in the WNBA Finals five times and won two championships, one with Detroit and the other with Minnesota. McWilliams-Franklin played so long that her WNBA career actually covered four Olympics, and though she never went to the Summer Games, there's no doubt she could have contributed to all of those teams.
9. Katie Douglas, guard/forward
The No. 10 pick out of Purdue in a strong 2001 draft, Douglas started her WNBA career in Orlando. She went to the WNBA Finals twice with Connecticut and twice with her hometown Indiana Fever, winning the 2012 league title.
Douglas played for the United States in the World University Games in 1999, after winning the NCAA title at Purdue. But she never played in a major senior competition despite being in the Team USA mix during some of her peak WNBA years from 2006-2012, which included two World Cups and two Olympics. Douglas was still a starter when her WNBA career ended after the 2014 season because of back issues, and she finished with career averages of 13.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
10. Deanna Nolan, guard
Like Douglas, Nolan was part of that loaded 2001 draft class as the No. 6 pick out of Georgia. She spent her nine-season WNBA career with Detroit, near her hometown of Flint, Michigan, and was one of the more exciting offensive players in league history. Then-Shock coach Bill Laimbeer once said that Nolan, with her quickness and leaping ability, could get to the rim whenever she wanted to. She was also a good 3-point shooter, making 340 regular-season treys and 80 in the playoffs, including the one that clinched the 2003 WNBA title. She also won league championships in 2006 and '08 with the Shock.
Nolan spent a brief time with USA Basketball, but got a Russian passport and thought her best chance to make an Olympic team might come with that country in 2008. However, with only one naturalized citizen allowed per team, that spot for Russia went to Hammon.
Team USA assistant Cheryl Reeve coached Nolan, Brunson and McWilliams-Franklin in the WNBA, as well as five of our honorable-mention players.
"That's the nature of this," said Reeve, Minnesota's head coach who previously was an assistant at Detroit and Charlotte. "USAB, every time they select a national team ... it's just not possible to be able to include all the great players."
11. Crystal Langhorne, forward
Maryland has been one of the top women's college basketball teams for decades, but has just three Olympians, two of whom (Tara Heiss and Kris Kirchner) didn't get to play in the Summer Games because of the 1980 boycott. Vicky Bullett (1988, '92) is the lone Terp who has competed in the Olympics. Langhorne retired after last season, while honorable-mention pick Kristi Toliver (Los Angeles) is still in the WNBA.
Langhorne finished a 13-season career shooting 56% from the field, second in WNBA history only to four-time Olympian Sylvia Fowles (59.4). Langhorne didn't make the 2010 FIBA World Cup team despite averaging 16.3 points and 9.7 rebounds while shooting 58.9% that WNBA season, which meant the handwriting was on the wall for the 2012 Olympics.
Toliver also didn't make the 2012 Olympic team, despite that being her best season statistically in the WNBA (17.5 PPG, 4.9 APG). But as mentioned with others, that 2012 Olympic team was named in April, before Toliver tore it up that season. Then in 2014, she made a bittersweet decision, joining another national team (Slovakia) for the financial reward gained from dual citizenship, while knowing that ended her USA Basketball dreams.
The bright side? Langhorne and Toliver won an NCAA title together (2006) and each have two WNBA championships.
12. Nykesha Sales forward/guard
It is unavoidable that college affiliation remains a hot topic regarding USA Basketball selection, in part because still-active college coaches -- first UConn's Geno Auriemma and now South Carolina's Dawn Staley -- have led the national team since 2009. Is it a taxing second job at times? Yes. But can it help with recruiting? What do you think?
UConn players' presence on the national team is both a hallmark of the program and something that irritates some fans outside the Huskies realm. Auriemma has been involved with four Olympic teams: as head coach (2012, '16), assistant (2000) and selection committee member (current team). Add in the new 3x3 event this year -- won Wednesday by a U.S team including Stefanie Dolson -- and it gives UConn 10 former players who have at least one Olympic gold medal. Napheesa Collier could help that number grow this summer if the U.S. win the 5-on-5 gold.
Who is the best WNBA player from UConn who never competed in the Olympics? It's Sales, a seven-time All-Star who spent her WNBA career in Orlando and Connecticut and reached the WNBA Finals twice with the Sun. She competed in the Jones Cup and World University Games for the Americans, but didn't play on the U.S. senior national team.
Honorable mention (in alphabetical order): Monique Currie, guard; Tamecka Dixon, guard; Cheryl Ford, forward; Adrienne Goodson, forward; Tiffany Hayes, guard; Briann January, guard; Vickie Johnson, guard; Renee Montgomery, guard; Tari Phillips, F/C; Nicole Powell, forward; Epiphanny Prince, guard; Tangela Smith, center; Andrea Stinson, guard; Kristi Toliver, guard