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USA Basketball had to ‘block out some of that outside noise’ when choosing women’s Olympic team

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) looks to pass over Connecticut Sun guard Tyasha Harris (52) and guard DiJonai Carrington (21) in the second half of a WNBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Monday, May 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

(CNN) — When looking at the US women’s national team roster for the Paris Olympics, the level of experience jumps off the page.

Every member of the team has earned an Olympic or FIBA World Cup gold medal, and the roster has a combined 15 Olympic gold medals, 18 FIBA Women’s World Cup titles and 55 WNBA All-Star appearances.

There is, however, one notable omission – rising star Caitlin Clark.

The WNBA rookie has attracted huge audiences during her college career and now with the Indiana Fever, and many believed that, both on and off the court, Clark would have been a vital addition to the team.

“We know the success that Caitlin had in college and she’s had a tremendous start to the WNBA season so far,” USA Basketball Women’s National Team Committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti told reporters on Tuesday.

“Essentially, it was the committee’s job to pick the 12 that, based on our selection criteria – as much as you want to make conversation around how we should have considered TV viewership or jersey sales or popularity, that wasn’t the purview of the committee to have those discussions,” added Rizzotti.

“The selection criteria was made very clear to us. Eventually, we had to block out some of that outside noise … It was important for our committee to hone in on the criteria that we were given and make this about basketball.”

The WNBA season opener between Connecticut Sun and Clark’s Indiana Fever drew an average of 2.1 million viewers on ESPN2, ESPN+ and Disney+, making it the most watched WNBA game in more than two decades.

A month prior to Clark’s WNBA debut, the NCAA women’s basketball National Championship matchup between her Iowa Hawkeyes and the South Carolina Gamecocks drew 18.9 million viewers, smashing television ratings records.

Speaking to reporters at a practice on Sunday, Clark said that she wasn’t disappointed to be omitted from the team, adding: “I think it gives you something to work for, you know, it’s a dream. Hopefully one day I can be there, and I think it’s just a little more motivation.”

There is a chance that Clark could square off against the US women’s national team next month.

This year’s WNBA All-Star game, which will be held in Phoenix, will pit WNBA All-Stars against Team USA. Three years ago, ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, Team WNBA defeated Team USA in the league’s All-Star game.

The USA Women’s basketball team has won gold at seven straight Olympic Games dating back to 1996.

This year’s team heading to Paris includes experienced past Olympic champions, including Brittney Griner, Diana Taurasi – who will make a record sixth consecutive Olympic appearance – and Breanna Stewart.

The 22-year-old Clark would also have been the youngest and most inexperienced player on the team by some distance. Aged 26, Sabrina Ionescu and Jackie Young are the youngest to be selected, but both are already multi-time All-Stars.

“We never once talked about the age of a player when it came down to making this decision,” Rizzotti said on Tuesday.

“There are a lot of players that are at the 26, 27-year range that didn’t make this team when they were 22 and 23, and they’ve worked hard over the last four years to put themselves in a position to make this team when they were playing their best basketball … The decision for this specific roster came down to experience being imperative.”