- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said it was a no-brainer. He wasn’t going to deny seniors Kayla Standish and Katelan Redmon a chance to represent their country at the Pan Am Games . Even if the timing wasn’t ideal.

The two Zags stars will play for the U.S. women’s basketball team in the tournament held Oct. 21-25 in Guadalajara, Mexico. The squad will start training in Houston on Oct. 15.

“This doesn’t happen to schools like us very often,” Graves said. “The higher-profile kids usually play on the international teams. I’m thrilled for them as it’s a great experience.”

The Pan-Am Games, which are contested every four years, are generally played in the summer. College practices can begin on Oct. 2, meaning that players could potentially miss 10 days with their school teams.

But USA basketball national team director Carol Callan had no problems filling the squad. She sent out a letter the first week in August to Division I coaches to see who might be available. Callan got an overwhelming positive response.

“We were thrilled with the amount of collegiate players interested in representing USA Basketball in Guadalajara next month and had a very difficult time getting the list down to the final 12-member team,” she said.

The roster is made up of 11 college players _ mostly from mid-major schools _ and high school senior Breanna Stewart, who has verbally committed to Connecticut.

“I see far more positives than negatives for them going,” Graves said. “We run the same stuff.”

The Americans will be led by former Colorado coach Ceal Barry and assistants Jennifer Gillom and Debbie Ryan.

“We have a great variety of players, and I think the selection committee did a tremendous job in a tough time period,” Barry said. “It’s tough for college players to get away, but this is a group that is versatile and talented. We’ll find out once we get to Houston how we are going to fit these pieces together.”

First-year Santa Barbara coach Carlene Mitchell echoed Graves‘ thoughts about the opportunity, although she’s in a different position compared to the veteran Zags coach. While Standish and Redmon are used to the Gonzaga system, Santa Barbara point guard Emilie Johnson _ who made the team _ is learning Mitchell’s new schemes.

The longtime assistant coach sat down with Johnson to map out practices, and the team will start Oct. 3 to limit the time that the guard will miss. The NCAA changed its rule last season, allowing colleges to start practices 40 days before their first game last year instead of on a specific date.

The U.S. men’s team doesn’t’ have the same problem because its made up of NBA Developmental League players.

“I asked coach Williams, our men’s coach, if I had lost my mind _ he laughed,” Mitchell said. “For a kid like Emilie, she’s worked so hard. Her missing 10 practices for me is selfish for what she’ll get out of the life experience. Her dream has always been to wear the red, white and blue.”

Missed practice time isn’t the only potential problem _ there’s always the chance of injury. Graves insists that he has no such concerns.

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