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Jennifer Rizzotti | USA Women's Basketball Committee Chair & Connecticut Sun Team President

Amy Lawrence Show / Amy Lawrence
The Truth Network Radio
June 20, 2024 5:35 am

Jennifer Rizzotti | USA Women's Basketball Committee Chair & Connecticut Sun Team President

Amy Lawrence Show / Amy Lawrence

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June 20, 2024 5:35 am

USA Women's Basketball Committee Chair & Connecticut Sun Team President Jennifer Rizzotti joins the show to talk leaving Caitlin Clark off the Olympic roster, why they made the decision, and the treatment of Caitlin around the WNBA.

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For trails nearby and explore confidently with offline maps and on-trail navigation, download the free app today and make the most of your summer with AllTrails. Jennifer Rizzotti is a longtime member of the USA basketball community as a player, as a coach. She's now the president of the Connecticut Sun. She's coached in college. She played at the highest level. We heard Kurt Miller say it's a tough part of basketball, Jen, but still really hard to get this news for a rookie just starting out. Anytime a player that's committed to this being their profession gets hurt, your heart goes out to them, right? It's like we've had it in Connecticut, and it's been across the league, but I think this one for me has been hard because I had an opportunity to coach Cam like last summer in the World Cup and a couple women's series events at 3x3, and I know how hard she worked to prepare to be an Olympian, and so when you look at her video when she got surprised with the announcement, it's heartbreaking to know how much it meant to her and that she's going to miss out on this opportunity, but fortunately, unfortunately, I guess she was in Connecticut last night, so I got a chance to be with her and talk her through some of the challenges and how she can come out on the other side even better than she is now.

She had a really positive, mature attitude about it for a 22-year-old, and she continues to impress me. Where do you go to find someone to fill her spot on the Olympic team? Yeah, anytime someone gets hurt, it's always hard to think about who can fill their shoes, right, because they were chosen for a reason, but you know, we also have an alternate pool, and I don't know that everybody understands how 3x3 selection works. First of all, you have to have played in an event in the last calendar year, which not a lot of WNBA players have done, and then you have to have two top 10 players on your team out of the four. When the team was selected by the committee, Haley Van List, Cameron, and Sierra Burdick were all part of that top 10 group, so it does give us a little bit of extra flexibility to add somebody who's not in the top 10.

You know, I feel like we have some great options, and you know, the pool of talent in America is deep. The challenge for me is that 3x3 is very different than 5 on 5, so I'm not replacing Cameron, who's an experienced 3 on 3 player with someone who really understands the game as much as her, but I certainly, no one's going to feel sorry for me because we're probably going to replace her with a WNBA player anyway. It's funny that you say that about the difference in coaching and really the style, because I was thinking about that in getting ready for our conversation. What are the main strategies that are different from a typical basketball game? Well, first of all, I can't coach them during the game, so that's like the biggest difference. When the game starts, I'm in the stands, so they essentially coach themselves once the game starts, so the level of preparation and accountability, not just to themselves but to each other, is raised exponentially because of that. Secondly, it's a 12-second shot clock, so you have to sync the game really quickly. By the time you take it out of the net and get it past the three-point line, you probably have about 9 or 10 seconds to run offense, so you have to have high IQ players. And then third, it is a 10-minute sprint.

You have to be in exceptional shape to be able to think while you're tired and execute while you're tired, and so you have to be used to that style. Fortunately, we have some players that played for me in the last calendar year that I think will be great options for us, but Cam understood that. She's within the kind of shape and had this style of game that's really hard to replace, but I'm more heartbroken for her than anything, and we'll just have to find a way to move on past this moment. We're spending a few minutes with Jennifer Rizzotti, who is the coach of that 3x3. Is that how you say it? Not three on three, 3x3? 3x3, yes. 3x3 team for USA Basketball at the Olympics in Paris, and also president of the Connecticut Sun, who have the best record in the WNBA right now, so we'll get to that.

It's after hours with Amy Lawrence. The big conversation around the Olympics team has been Kaitlyn Clark. What are you looking for when you put together an Olympic team, especially one with a tradition of USA Women's Basketball?

Well, you know, we can start there, right? We're talking about the most successful team sport in Olympic history, you know, a team that's going for its eighth consecutive gold medal. So expectations are high, and although people think it's easy because we've done it seven times in a row, it's really not.

The team and the women on the team work really hard to make it look easy, but it's hard to go to the Olympics and play against other countries that have been training together for years and months at a time and find a way to continue to come out on top. So number one, experience matters, and you know, for those who want to be critics of the process, they don't live in it, right? They don't live in this space where, as a coach, a former coach, right, and somebody who's been involved with USA Basketball for 20 years, like you understand the value of having coaches and players that have been there that have done that and understand the magnitude of the moment, right? Then you look at the criteria, and the criteria clearly state that you want to have experience in international and familiarity with international basketball, familiarity with the team and the coaching style, and leadership qualities. And so when you name a team, you want to focus on the players who made it because they have those qualities. And this process, unfortunately, has been a lot of focus on who didn't make it.

And I'm not going to, you know, evade the question. Like, I think Kaitlyn Clark is phenomenal. I think that she has been tremendous along with the rest of the rookies in this class and bringing great attention to the WNBA and helping us all as business leaders fill our stands. Nobody negates that impact that they have had on bringing attention to the WNBA. But this is the hardest team in the world to make.

And it's been a three year process. Three years, we have been evaluating talent after the Tokyo Olympics through the 2022 World Cup, through eight to 10 different national team camps. And when you think about the women who have committed to that process and have the experience and have the reps and have the familiarity with each other, it's really hard to argue with who we put on the team. And I think Kaitlyn and other players that are coming into the WNBA this year and over the years to come are going to be Olympians and they're going to represent our country in the highest way.

But I think the depth of the pool right now in USA basketball is so deep and so strong that it's hard to look at who we put on the team and argue that they don't deserve it. And there's a mix of versatility. There's a mix of experience.

There's a mix of leadership. And obviously you need depth at every position. And we feel like we checked off all of those boxes. And as much as other players might be more popular right now, we really felt like in order to uphold the integrity of the process, we needed to choose a team based on basketball criteria.

And we did that. Some of these rookies are struggling with the physical nature of the WNBA. How much does that play into it at the international level? It plays into it a lot. In talking to Cam Brink over the last couple days because she was in Connecticut, she even said that she really appreciated her time in the weight room because she knows she has to get stronger as she continues to navigate through WNBA competition. You've heard Kaitlyn Clark talk about the physicality of the game and how she wants to continue to evolve and she wants to use her time over Olympic break to get stronger and get in the weight room. So it's a real thing and it's not a negative thing, right?

It's not something that is looked down upon. But you know the women in the league have been playing basketball for decades. They have committed to the process of hiring strength and conditioning people that have allowed them to be elite athletes, right? You look at their bodies, you look at even some of them and how they have changed their bodies from college to when they are 27 or 28.

And it's hard to not notice that, right? Again, it's not a negative thing that rookies are coming in and struggling to play against the defense of the WNBA. And honestly, when I look at the attention being paid defensively to boxing out Angel Reese or defending Kaitlyn Clark off of a ball screen, it's actually a compliment to them that there's WNBA defenses that are really focused in on their skill set. So I think they are the future and I think that they're going to learn a lot through their first year and through the competition that they're facing.

And I think, you know, the narrative of them not being appreciated is false. I think that everybody in this league that has fought for so long to get the eyeballs on the game are very appreciative that we're at a point that all of us, all the former players, all the current players have played a part in the momentum that we're seeing now in the WNBA and everybody should be celebrated for that and everybody should be appreciated for that. Is she on your list of alternates? One of the things that has to happen after you name a team is that you have to go back to the rest of the players in the pool and ask them if they were be willing to be an alternate because they do have to stay in the testing pool. So everybody that's been engaged with USA basketball right now is a possible alternate. Those alternates don't have to be declared until July, but Kaitlyn along with others are definitely players that would be considered if we had a situation where we needed to replace somebody on the Olympic team. And so they're all aware of that.

They're all committed to that process and they all want to be a part of it. And I think again, it's a compliment and a testament to USA basketball and what it means to represent our country on this Olympic team. In the wake of the announcement and the roster coming out, people were talking about how this is a dumb choice because so many more people would tune in to watch the games if Kaitlyn Clark were on the roster. What's your response to that? My response is that that may be the truth, right? Like that may be very true that more people would more people would tune in because they're intrigued by what kind of impact she could have on the Olympic team.

I can't deny that. But at the same time, that was not the criteria that we chose the team from. You know, our goal was to put together not just the 12 best players, not just the 12 most popular players. It was to put together a team that Cheryl could feel good about going to the Olympics that checked off every single basketball box that she felt she had the talent, the skill, the experience, the depth, the versatility to win a gold medal in an environment where she's going to feel an enormous amount of pressure. If you don't want to tune into that, that's your problem, right?

Like you're missing out on this greatness. Because I think what Kaitlyn, what Angel, what Cam, what Camilla have done, Rekia, is they've brought attention to how good the WNBA players are in this league, right? So I applaud that and I would hope that people would want the USA basketball team to be successful. That when you listen to Kaitlyn's comments about how hard the team is to make and that she roots for them and wants to see them be successful, that as a fan you would take that to heart and understand that that her time will come, right?

We will be celebrating her one day, but the women that are on this team, every single one of them, including others that didn't make it, deserve to be on this team and you can't argue that. Jen, what's it like to have so many thousands of fans show up and tune in on TV who've never watched the sport before? It's tremendous.

Obviously, I'm in a new role now as an executive in a front office. Business is booming and that's a great thing and it's across all games. It's not just one opponent, it's not just one player, it's across the league. Every game you can see that crowds are up exponentially this season. Eyeballs on the game, TV ratings are up exponentially.

So it's just really exciting to be a part of and you know for me, I feel like I can be behind the scenes for the Connecticut Sun and I feel really proud of the product that we're putting on the floor and the fan attendance that we have this year and the success we're having on the business side. When I'm in the spotlight for picking an Olympic team, whether it's your opinion or not, you can bring that heat on me because at the end of the day, I really do want every player to be celebrated. Nobody should be blamed for any kind of negative thing that's happening in the league. Let them play basketball. Let them be who they are and part of who they are is speaking out about things that they feel like are important to them. They take a platform with social justice. They take a platform for what they think is important and they have each other's back. Every single one of these women have each other's back.

So the narrative sometimes can be frustrating because I know that because I'm living it. But at the end of the day, I'm just excited that people are paying attention and people are excited about our team and excited about the league and I hope that we're creating a new fan base that's going to support this team and this league into the future. The Connecticut Sun are off to their best start in franchise history and now it's sitting at 13 and 1. A team to watch for a lot of reasons as you point out. What's special about the roster right now? Everything's special about the roster, right? I mean we've got Alyssa Thomas who probably should have won the MVP award last year in the league who's like a triple double queen. We've got DeJuana Bonner is a top five in in the WNBA scoring history. Brianna Jones back from her Achilles injury is dominating right now and we just have a really balanced roster.

I think we're the only team in the league that is average has all five starters averaging double figures. So there is a balance and a buy-in and a focus on being the best defensive team in the league that makes us really special. So they're fun to watch and we're not even playing our best basketball but there's a commitment to winning and there's a commitment to doing things the right way and as a fan of the team but also the leader of the team it makes me really appreciative. Stephanie White is your coach. She's the reigning WNBA coach of the year and just earned another honor in May for coach of the month. Why is she the right person for this team as you move forward? Stephanie just really understands the game at a high level. I think that as a former player she has been there like she's been in the shoes of our players so she knows how to motivate them, she knows how to talk to them, she also knows how hard it is to win and that's really important for our players that they have a leader who understands what they're going through on a day-to-day basis but they also want a leader who they respect and Stephanie's ability to understand x's and o's and create defensive teams that'll work for our team and put a staff around her that can help us be successful. It's just been really fun to watch them evolve as a coaching staff and I think the success of this year's team has a lot to do with the fact that our coaching staff has settled in right they've settled in with a team they've settled into their strengths and in year two you can see the difference in how they're impacting the players. I saw some comments from Brianna Stewart when she talked about her initial entry into the WNBA as talented as she is one of the best women's basketball players that we've got on the planet and she was talking about the process of integrating as a rookie that it wasn't that different from what we're seeing with Kaitlyn. I know a lot of the focus has been on Kaitlyn, how typical is the reception quote-unquote that she's getting? Well I think the biggest difference right between any star player that has come into the league has been the social media attention. When Stewie came out of college when even Sabrina came out of college when Asia Wilson came out of college there wasn't a hyper focus of attention on them through every single medium whether it's ESPN to TikTok right the players in this generation have grown up as social media darlings and so everything that they do and everything that they say has been scrutinized. You know I think Kaitlyn plays in a way that's captivating right I feel like people love to watch her play because she's an exciting offensive player that you never know what you're going to get whether it's a no-look pass or a logo three it's captivating right and and even if there were players like that in the past not everything they did was captured the way it was in the last year for for Kaitlyn Clark and so I think the scrutiny good and bad is there for these players in a way that you know you kind of hope they have mental health like some more and Kaitlyn talked about that because it's hard right but every good player whether it was Diana Tarazi 20 years ago or Brianna Stewart six or seven years ago they came into the league the veteran players wanted to compete and they were physical and they showed them a level of respect by not backing down and that's where the narrative needs to turn is like the level of respect for Kaitlyn is shown by how hard people are defending her that's what we should be talking about you know whether they bump her a little bit or talk trash that's not the issue the fact that teams are putting their best players on her and focusing on her that's a level of respect that Dewey had and Diana had and Asia Wilson had and that just speaks to like who they are as players and and you look at the trajectory of their career and you can kind of imagine that Kaitlyn will hopefully take the same kind of trajectory before I let you go Jen just to bring it back to USA basketball what's the next thing that has to happen with the Olympics just over a month away yeah well we need to kind of keep our fingers crossed and bubble wrap all of our players that are in both the 3x3 and the five on five pool right like we want we we were able to help fulfill their dream of being an Olympian and now you want them to be able to you know put on that uniform and compete in Paris um so we'll finish up here with the last few weeks of the WNBA season everybody will meet in Phoenix for the WNBA all-star game the five on five Olympic team will play against WNBA all-stars and the 3x3 team will also have an exhibition game there against the college select team so there'll be some great exposure for both teams and then they'll both teams will head over to Europe on right after the all-star game so I think one of the things that people aren't considering is how little time we have to prepare when you think about the fact that the all-star game is July 20th and open opening ceremony is July 26th having players that have experience and familiarity with each other and the team is really imperative in a year with very little practice time so I think it's just like let's get through this you know stretch let's keep everybody healthy let's get together in Phoenix and then you know go hopefully assert our dominance and on the world stage but um support each other have people watch and be excited about our Olympic team and and continue to to bring home the gold medal it's a lot on the plate this summer but it should be exciting especially as you talk about the dominance for so many Olympics it's a chance for this group to be part of that tradition Jennifer Rizzotti is the USA basketball selection committee chair but her day job is the Connecticut Sun president best team in the WNBA all right so let's make a deal when you're done you've got another gold medal you have to come back on the show that's a deal I will definitely agree to that okay all right thank you so much as always for your candor and your time Jen yes thanks Amy great talking to you we all belong outside we're drawn to nature whether it's the recorded sounds of the ocean we doze off to or the succulents that adorn our homes nature makes all of our lives well better despite all this we often go about our busy lives removed from it but the outdoors is closer than we realize with all trails you can discover trails nearby and explore confidently with offline maps and on-trail navigation download the free app today and make the most of your summer with all trails tune in is the audio platform with something for everyone news in order to secure convictions in a court of law it is essential that we conclusively sports that clock at four doncic the step back three music and even podcasts whatever you love hear it right here on tune in go to tunein.com or download the tune in app to start listening start your summer road trip at mitis and get up to 30 off your next repair service plus get a free closer look vehicle check to make sure your road trip ready so if you need a brake service and alignment check or tune up hit up mitis for up to 30 off for more details request your appointment at mitis.com
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-20 10:21:29 / 2024-06-20 10:30:57 / 9

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