Basketball

Kahleah Copper helps carry USA Basketball into quarterfinals

Breanna Stewart passed the ball to Kahleah Copper on the left wing, who took two dribbles to score on the other side of the basket while fully extending her right arm. In a later defensive play, she jumped the passing channel for a steal, deflected the ball, grabbed it, finished in the paint with her left hand on a Eurostep.

Earlier in the 2022 FIBA World Cup’s group stage, following a U.S. turnover, Copper quickly reverted to defense and stole the ball from a Belgian player who was attempting a layup in midair.

Breanna Stewart passed the ball to Kahleah Copper on the left wing, who took two dribbles to score on the other side of the basket while fully extending her right arm. In a later defensive play, she jumped the passing channel for a steal, deflected the ball, grabbed it, finished in the paint with her left hand on a Eurostep.

Earlier in the 2022 FIBA World Cup’s group stage, following a U.S. turnover, Copper quickly reverted to defense and stole the ball from a Belgian player who was attempting a layup in midair.

The team’s face may not be Copper like it is Stewart or A’ja Wilson. She isn’t posting as impressive metrics as Brionna Jones or Kelsey Plum. Copper, however, has unquestionably made an impact in Australia as one of only two players who, prior to the World Cup, had never played for USA Basketball at all in her career. She arrived in Australia with the athleticism, explosiveness toward the rim, and dynamism that the American women lacked at the Tokyo Olympics.

As the United States concluded group play undefeated, winning its five games by an average margin of 46.2 points, Copper averaged 11.0 points on 53.8% shooting (41.7% on 3-pointers), 4.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.4 steals in 20.0 minutes. However, the Chicago Sky wing will continue to play a crucial role on both ends of the court as the U.S. women try to win their fourth straight gold medal in the competition this week and maintain their remarkable run of going more than 20 games without dropping a game in World Cup and Olympic competition since 1994.

Following the team’s victory over South Korea, U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve remarked, “She has been extremely essential to not only penetration that you get, but her defense.” “Kudos to her because she has effectively removed some players from games. She has played a crucial role for us.”

The next step is defeating Serbia in the quarterfinals on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET, ESPNU/ESPN+), the No. 10 team in the FIBA rankings. If the top-ranked American prevailed, she would advance to the semifinals and play the winner of Canada-Puerto Rico.

According to players, it might be challenging to advance in USA Basketball. It is difficult to make the squad, let alone receive playing time, with so much quality at every position and on the depth chart.

The trajectory of copper both reflects and, in some ways, deviates from that pattern. When she entered her sixth season in the WNBA and was coming off a breakout season in the WNBA “bubble,” she hadn’t been a member of the national team pool until the spring of 2021. Copper recalls that he was merely “trying to find my way, trying to find my footing” at the time.

Although she took part in training camp prior to the Tokyo Games, which demonstrated to Copper that she could compete with the best of the greatest, she was not chosen for the Olympics. In spite of this, she improved afterward, receiving her first of two straight All-Star selections, winning the regular-season MVP award in the 2022 EuroLeague with Perfumerias Avenida, and being voted WNBA Finals MVP during Chicago’s 2021 championship run.

It was crucial for Copper to keep moving forward and to maintain his competitive spirit and inner fire.

Her 2022 WNBA season didn’t go as she had anticipated. The Sky had the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and aimed to win the WNBA title a second time, breaking a streak of 20 years. Even with 22 points in the winner-take-all Game 5 against the No. 3 seed Connecticut Sun, Copper had a rather quiet semifinal series. The Sun eliminated Chicago on its home court by scoring the game’s last 18 points, the largest scoring spree to end a WNBA playoff game in history.

A difficult turnaround, according to Copper, included dealing with the disappointment of the semifinal defeat, packing her home, traveling to Philadelphia, and deciding whether or not to represent USA Basketball at the World Cup. But she was aware that she had to seize the opportunity to represent her country—a goal she had long pursued and considered the pinnacle of success—before it was too late.

The ability to be mature and have the chance to play more basketball, according to Copper, was crucial for him. “I think this is unique, and this is a huge chance for me,” the speaker said.

The roster wasn’t complete when she arrived in Australia for training camp, so nobody was assured a position. But since Copper’s previous attempt to make the team, Reeve has observed a change in her. Copper claimed that in addition to her excellent performance, she also made an effort to express this by taking the lead and speaking out.

She has developed over the past couple of years, as is evident from what we’ve seen in the WNBA, so Reeve said she stepped off the plane with a degree of confidence that she has maintained. “That was incredibly entertaining to see.”

Eight new players are on the U.S. roster compared to the World Cup roster for 2018. Only Copper and Shakira Austin had never played for USA Basketball before (after accounting for youth teams and the qualifying event in February). Austin was selected by the Washington Mystics as the No. 3 overall WNBA pick in April.

Despite being new, Copper has proven to be invaluable on both ends, getting starts in four of the five games of group play. Her position as an athletic wing helps Team USA fill a gap that may have existed when Angel McCoughtry and Maya Moore were a part of the Rio 2016 Olympic team. In an offensive move, Copper’s swift initial step makes it simple for her to reach the rim. When the USA needs a basket, she has been able to make crucial shots, including three-pointers, and go to the basket in transition or at half-court.

Many people thought Copper’s exclusion from the WNBA all-defensive teams was a mistake, and she has demonstrated why thus far in this tournament by benching important players like Arella Guirantes of Puerto Rico and Julie Allemand of Belgium (who had repeated 20-point performances in Sydney). The ball-moving and rebounding skills of Copper are also ideal for Reeve’s fast-paced style of play.

Kah is quite adaptable, according to Wilson. “She must provide a spark off the bench for us. She just keeps giving her all, even when she’s in the starting lineup. Knowing your job is crucial for USA Basketball, and I believe that it is crucial for us for a rookie to enter the team and recognize her purpose right away. Due to her vitality, we play.”

She has found a personal and team-oriented groove thanks to Copper’s great performance in the World Cup that wasn’t always present during the WNBA playoffs. She described being able to move over the disappointing conclusion to her WNBA season as “therapeutic in a way.”

“You cannot become locked in simply by playing against the best players. I can play for free “Copper, who won’t be competing overseas and will instead take this WNBA summer to heal her body, remarked. Copper, Stewart, Jones, Alyssa Thomas, and Jewell Loyd arrived late to training camp, while the team’s three Aces players missed the first two games after winning their WNBA title. As a result, the American women are still getting used to playing together. Even if it’s not the WNBA title Copper was hoping for, Copper still has a chance to win a championship this fall against a strong China team or a rising Australia side.

In regards to perhaps winning gold, Copper said, “It’d mean everything to me.” “It’s like everything happens for a reason, making this decision to come here and being able to win the gold, and it’ll be another accomplishment crossed off my bucket list as well.”

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