Colorado Springs, Colorado
Picture yourself standing atop a podium with a gold medal around your neck, the letters U-S-A written across your chest and the national anthem playing loudly through the speakers.
Many athletes will agree there is no better feeling than the joy of realizing all your hard work has paid off.
School colors and teams are important, but representing your country is a special kind of accomplishment.
Twice already, Arike Ogunbowale (Divine Savior Holy Angels H.S./Milwaukee, Wis.) has lived through that experience, and she is only 17 years old.
Her first USA Basketball experience came as a member of the 2013 USA Women’s U16 National Team that captured the gold medal in Mexico after storming through the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship with an unblemished 5-0 record. The team’s top finish qualified the United States for the 2014 Women’s U17 World Championship this upcoming June in the Czech Republic.
Ogunbowale followed that performance by becoming one of four members of the 2013 USA Basketball Women’s 3x3 U18 World Championship Team, which also made its way to the top of the medal stand after compiling an 8-1 record during the championship to claim gold. Defeating Estonia 21-12 in the gold-medal game, the USA earned an automatic bid to the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China.
“It’s just a blessing and it’s kind of crazy,” Ogunbowale said of having two gold medals so far in her young career. “I’m just excited, and I want to keep doing this every summer.”
And it seems that indeed she will, as she just recently earned the chance to continue adding to her hardware collection.
This past Monday, May 26, 2014, Ogunbowale was named to the 12-member 2014 USA Basketball Women’s U17 World Championship Team. She, along with five of her teammates from the 2013 USA U16 National Team, as well as six new teammates, will have a chance to compete for yet another gold medal to bring back to the United States.
Things, however, don’t end there. Ogunbowale also will have a chance to perhaps compete for a fourth gold medal this summer.
This weekend, she is partaking in the 2014 USA Basketball 3X3 U18 National Championship at the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the winner of the women’s tournament will earn the right to represent the USA at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games from August 16-28 in China.
Despite having concluded an intense four-day trials alongside 145 girls in order to earn a spot in the U17 team just three days ago, Ogunbowale said she is ready to go again, and to change things up a bit with 3x3 basketball.
“I’m really excited,” Ogunbowale said. “I love playing 3x3 (basketball) a lot, so I’m glad to do it again. Hopefully we win the tournament and can travel to China.”
One of the best young basketball players in the nation, Ogunbowale will be teaming up with yet more stellar young players this weekend, including De’Janae Boykin (Charles H. Flowers H.S./Springdale, Md.), Napheesa Collier (Incarnate Word Academy/ O’Fallon, Mo.) and Natalie Chou (Plano West Senior H.S./ Plano, Texas).
“They’re all top-level players,” Ogunbowale said of her 3x3 teammates. “It makes it all much easier. We know how to play together, and we clicked right away.”
A Different Game
Ogunbowale said there are quite a few differences when switching between the games of five-on-five and 3x3 basketball.
“It is definitely more (of an) up-speed tempo (in 3x3). You have to guard your player, because there’s no help from the outside. It makes it a bit easier to go one-on-one with people, but I have to be quicker. Once the team scores, we have to clear the ball out fast to be able to score again.”
In addition to the change of pace, she also agrees with what most 3x3 players will say about this discipline: the game is fun and a lot less stressful. Having music blaring from the speakers while playing definitely helps.
“It’s a lot more relaxing, and it’s easier to play in it,” she said. “There is music and there are people right there next to you, and you sub on your own.”
Nevertheless, the more ‘chill’ atmosphere does not mean that preparation can be ignored.
In fact, playing 3x3 basketball requires you more than ever to really know the game, because as per FIBA rules, coaches are not allowed to be on the sidelines during games.
“We have to be prepared to know what to do, when to do it, how to run plays and how to work them,” she explained.
Land Of The Free, Home Of The Brave
Ogunbowale said wearing the USA uniform will never become routine for her, and as long as she can keep competing for more opportunities to don the red, white and blue, you can be sure she will continue to do so.
All of this playing does equal one thing.
“It’s a lot of basketball. But that’s a good thing, because it just keeps pushing me to be better.”
With three national team selections already in her pocket, Ogunbowale will try to earn a fourth one starting tomorrow, hoping to once again stand tall and proud alongside her teammates, while singing along to the words that epitomize the glory of being crowned a champion.