DURHAM, N.C. - As the U.S. women's basketball team prepares to defend its world title, it's turning to three new players to replace one of the program's cornerstones.
Forward Candace Parker, center Michelle Snow of the Houston Comets and center Cheryl Ford of the Detroit Shock were added to the U.S. roster Wednesday to reinforce the Americans' frontcourt after forward Lisa Leslie withdrew because of family reasons.
"This team has been shaped without Lisa," coach Anne Donovan said. "In the last nine days, we've been through an adjustment period. We've responded very well, but gametime will be different, I'm sure."
The Americans are 42-0 in the Olympics and in world championship competition, an accomplishment players and coaches credit to continuity and the strong leadership of Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and Dawn Staley.
The newcomers "see these players that have received a large amount of accolades coming out and putting their egos aside and making a commitment to (USA Basketball)," said Tina Thompson, a forward on the U.S. gold-medal team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Now, only Swoopes remains on the court. Staley, whose playing career ended in August, remains involved with the program as one of Donovan's assistants.
Leslie, recently chosen the WNBA's most valuable player, won't play in the Sept. 12-23 championships in Brazil because her mother-in-law is facing surgery and her uncle has been hospitalized since a car accident Aug. 27, USA Basketball spokesperson Caroline Williams said Wednesday.
"I really wish I could be there to help my teammates win gold at the World Championship," the three-time Olympic medalist said in a statement. "However, with everything going on right now with two close members of my family, I have to put my family first."
Guard Alana Beard and young players such as Parker and Seimone Augustus have been labeled the future of the team. Parker, the first woman to dunk in an NCAA Tournament, is a 6-4 forward at Tennessee and the lone college player on the roster.
They'll get their first test today in an exhibition against Australia, a rematch of the gold-medal games at the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympics.
With the transition seemingly coming more quickly than anticipated, Beard said she hopes she and her teammates can keep the team's 42-0 streak alive.
"This is a special year, because they're handing over the reins," Beard said. "The young players are here learning from them, learning what it took for them to go through the wars of continuing their dominance and continuing their streak. Hopefully we can learn how to keep that going."