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Ariel Atkins joins USA Basketball women’s national team for 2020 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament

The Washington Mystics guard is the second American player to join the international pool.

Las Vegas Aces v Washington Mystics - Game One
Ariel Atkins is the second Washington Mystics player to join the USA Basketball women’s national team pool.
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

On Tuesday, USA Basketball announced that Washington Mystics guard Ariel Atkins will be part of their women’s national team roster when the United States participates in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament from Feb. 6 to 9. Atkins is currently playing for the Perth Lynx in Australia’s WNBL.

She will join Chicago Sky forward Katie Lou Samuelson and Indiana Fever guard Tiffany Mitchell, in part because Sky forward Diamond DeShields and Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi are not able to play in February’s games.

What does this mean for USA Basketball?

In short, this is a sign that the Americans are looking to expand their pool of players before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. But adding additional players before a FIBA tournament also serves two purposes.

First, USA Basketball gets to see Atkins play against other international teams in a low-risk situation. The Americans already clinched an Olympic bid in the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup but have to participate in these qualifiers due to new FIBA rules, so there’s no risk if Atkins, Mitchell and/or Samuelson play poorly next month.

Second, players who participate in the Olympics, World Cup, AmeriCup and/or qualifiers for the aforementioned three tournaments get capped, or designated as players for a specific country. If and when Atkins plays in the qualifiers, she is capped as an American and cannot play for another country in most circumstances.

What does this mean for Atkins and the Mystics?

This is a big honor for Atkins and the Mystics. For Atkins, she will have a chance to show that she deserves a chance to play for the Americans’ senior team, perhaps even this summer for the Olympics.

And for the Mystics, it’s a sign of validation about the talent they have as WNBA champions. To this point, only Elena Delle Donne was in consideration to make the team. And now, Atkins, the team’s youngest starter joins the pool. Quite frankly, I think this move was overdue since she already was a two-time All-WNBA Defensive team selection and starter very early in her career.

The Mystics could have as many as four Olympians on their 2020 roster, depending on cuts and signings. First, Delle Donne has to re-sign and play for Team USA. Then, Emma Meesseman and Kim Mestdagh have to re-sign and qualify for Belgium in the Olympic Qualifiers as well. They won’t face the USA in their group.

Who will the Americans play in Serbia?

The Americans are the top ranked team in the world. They will play No. 43 Mozambique, 17 Nigeria and No. 7 Serbia. Teams from FIBA Africa are generally the weakest, so there should be little chance of an upset to either Mozambique or Nigeria.

Serbia, however is one of the traditional world powers. They have players with WNBA experience like Ana Dabovic and Mystics alumna Jelena Milovanovic played for them as well. Their chemistry can give the Americans a scare, but the USA should still come out ahead in the end.

Here’s the schedule:

  • Thursday, Feb. 6, at Serbia at 2 p.m. ET
  • Saturday, Feb. 8 vs. Mozambique at 2 p.m. ET
  • Sunday, Feb. 9 vs. Nigeria at 2 p.m. ET

Will Bullets Forever cover Team USA’s play in Olympic Qualifiers?

Yes, and here’s the long answer on how I came to that decision.

Originally, I had no intention of covering Team USA in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament because Delle Donne was not participating. Furthermore, the USA has nothing to play for because they made the Olympics.

Before yesterday, the tournament group that was worth my time was the one in Oostende, Belgium because ... Belgium is actively playing for a spot. Their Olympic participation (or elimination) will alter the course of Washington’s 2020 season and beyond.

And there’s a bandwidth thing at play as well. The NBA Trade Deadline is on Feb. 7, right in the middle of this tournament. If the Washington Wizards make some trades before then, we’ll certainly have our hands full as well. We were covering Belgium either way, unless Meesseman and Mestdagh announce that they won’t play for the Mystics anymore. That’s unlikely until after February, so Belgium’s a go.

But now that Atkins is on Team USA for the qualifiers, I changed my mind. If she plays really well, you never know if she gets a nod for Tokyo!

In short, yes, we will cover Team USA’s run in the FIBA Olympic Qualifiers.