SYDNEY. U.S. Women’s Basketball Coach Cheryl Reeve called Alyssa Thomas last December, hoping she would want to be on the national team.

Thomas, who played overseas in the Czech Republic during the WNBA off-season, has long ruled out her name. She found that, as a longtime player overseas, commitments to the national team usually occurred during her only break of the year.

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“I wasn’t too focused on playing for Team USA, but she called me and explained her vision and talked about defense and passing and I think that’s my identity and role,” Thomas said on Friday. “So it wasn’t hard for me to try.”

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Reeve, who was named head coach of the US basketball team that same month, told Thomas she would be frank if things didn’t go the way she had hoped. Thomas immediately decided to try.

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Less than a year later, Thomas and Team USA were the perfect match for the 2022 FIFA Women’s World Cup. In her first major international competition with Team USA, Thomas was “The Engine” – her WNBA nickname with the Connecticut Sun – USA ran for the gold medal game against China on Saturday (2 AM ET). , Sportzshala/Sportzshala+). The Americans achieve their fourth in a row and 11th in the overall standings of the gold medal of the tournament.

Reeve called Thomas because she suspected the 6’2 forward “may be one of the most important people we’ll add to this.” A three-time WNBA All-Star and four-time defensive team pick, Thomas is known for her versatility in both offense and defense that allows her to play even in the top spot. She averages 10.6 points on 67.4% shooting, second on the team), 4.6 assists (second) and 2.7 steals in 22.4 minutes per game in Sydney. And the stats don’t capture how her relentless energy and physicality help set the tone, whether it’s American women’s crushing victories or when they’re being tested by a stern team.

Aja Wilson, the 2022 WNBA MVP, whose Las Vegas Aces defeated San Thomas in the finals earlier this month, called Thomas “this team’s glue, the X factor.” Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm called Thomas the “Most Valuable Player of the tournament”.

Thomas has not been involved with USA Basketball since 2013. But after several years of playing against her as head coach of the Minnesota Lynx, Reeve was impressed with Thomas’s analysis, even though Thomas was not recognized as a WNBA All-League Pick. before this season (second team). With several USA Basketball Post players leaving or retiring, Thomas had the opportunity to earn a bigger role on the team.

Thomas made his first test run in the Riva system during the FIBA ​​World Cup Qualifier in February, when the coach was looking to establish a personality with regards to defense and up-tempo. “She’s obviously a mix of both,” Reeve said.

Case in point: Against Serbia in the quarter-finals, with the United States leading only four early in the second quarter, Thomas recovered defensively after her player rigged a shot and hit the paint. Thomas made sure she didn’t get any further, snatching the ball out of the hands of a Serbian player before taking one dribble and running it from the bottom block to the free throw line at the other end of the court, where she was backed up by Sun teammate Brionna Jones. this is for idle.

In the semi-final against Canada, the Americans were able to slow down the hot Lynx player Bridget Carlton, who scored at least 15 points in four games in a row.

Their game plan? “Alyssa Thomas,” Reeve said. “We said, ‘Follow her.’

When the US needs a hit physically or a burst of energy, Thomas most often provides it, either as part of the starting five, which she has been in throughout the tournament, or when she is back in the game.

Thomas’ appearance – her agility on the lane and breaking the attacking glass where she collects 2.7 boards per contest – was critical to the United States dominating the paint (averaging 54.0 points per game) and assists (26.3) . For Team USA, all but one (Belgium in the first leg) had less than 70 points, and four, including Canada in the semi-finals and Serbia in the quarter-finals, had less than 60 points.

Reeve discussed how having more defense-oriented personnel allowed Team USA to dominate this end of the floor even more than in recent years, and that Thomas in particular was “really vital to establishing that identity.”

“Her energy is impressive,” said Loyd, Thomas’ breakfast buddy during the World Cup. “Her tenacity on defense, her IQ on offense. She is in the right place all the time and she doesn’t take care of herself. It’s always the question: How can I attract other people? and she just never gets tired… She is so fun to watch.”

Thomas, a nine-year WNBA veteran, didn’t think about playing for the US basketball team or any other national team for most of her career. “I just took care of myself,” she said. “I just play hard and play my style of play, whether it’s overseas. [or the] WNBA and I think I’m approaching it the same way.”

The potential to win a gold medal would have been a good silver lining — “a great page-turner,” Thomas said — after her Sun lost in the WNBA Finals for the second time in four seasons. Instead, Thomas can win a championship that few American basketball players have competed in and get a chance to be part of a legacy and one of the most legendary dynasties in all sports. For Thomas and Reeve, the wait was worth it.

“Basketball USA, may not always be your time, right?” Reeve said. “As for the earlier part of Alyssa’s career, go back and look at the post-players of that time. It’s not that Alyssa wasn’t good enough. It just wasn’t her time.

“What I appreciate is that Alyssa didn’t go to play for another country because she just didn’t get it when she wanted to. She stayed there. She trusted me.”