Linnae Harper Leading By Example
In her second-consecutive summer with USA Basketball, Linnae Harper (Whitney Young H.S./Chicago, Ill.) is doing whatever it takes to win a gold medal for her country, including playing out of her normal position. As she did in helping the USA to a gold medal in the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Mexico City, Harper has moved from a shooting guard to a point guard. The transition isn't easy, but Harper says she is embracing the challenge.
"Well for me on the court, this experience is helping me with my point guard skills," Harper explained. "Playing with USA last summer was actually my first time playing point, so I'm still learning and I'm getting better at it. Just knowing how to see the court, playing with my teammates, seeing how they play and getting to know my teammates' personalities on the court, it's really helping me expand my game, but I can also help and contribute to this team so we can get a gold medal."
The USA's 5-0 record in the zone qualifier in 2011 earned the team a berth into the FIBA U17 World Championship, which for the USA begins against South Korea at 9:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m. EDT) on Friday, August 17.
"I think the practices and exhibition games have done us good, but I'm ready to play," Harper said. "I think the team is ready to play, and we're ready to compete for this gold medal."
Harper isn't the only one on the team having to make adjustments. Most players are the first scoring options on their high school and AAU teams, but on a team full of the country's best talent, not everyone can be the No. 1 option. You won't hear any complaining though, even from Harper, who is coming off the bench for the first time after having started all five games for the USA in the FIBA Americas championship.
"I didn't take it as anything personal," Harper said of her role. "I see it as a motivation to keep working hard. When I do come in, maybe we are down on energy or on defense, and I can bring the team some energy and intensity.
"Coming off the bench is different," Harper continued. "But it's not stopping me from anything, and I keep going hard, keep fighting. And when I do get in the game, I'm going to be doing the same thing. When I'm not starting, I'm cheering my team on. It's one common goal, and that's to win the gold medal, so I'll do whatever it takes, and I'll still contribute the game whether I'm starting or coming off the bench."
While the FIBA Americas zone qualifier featured eight teams from North, South and Central America as well as the Caribbean, the World Championship includes 12 teams who all qualified with No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 finishes in their respective zone tournaments last summer, as well as Netherlands by virtue of hosting the 2012 Worlds.
"It was different last year, but I still had an idea of what to expect," Harper said of the world championship. "The competition is better this year, and it's a lot more physical. I am focused, and I realize when to have fun and when to focus on basketball. I am trying to be a better leader, vocally and leading by example."
The USA also played four exhibition games throughout the summer to help with its preparations, including a round-robin tournament in Caorle, Italy, that saw the USA down, Brazil, Australia and Italy.
"I think the games in Italy helped us a lot," Harper said. "The first game, we won by a lot, but still we had some things to work on. In the last two games, we started off slow, down by more than 10, but I think now we realized we can't start like that. We have to focus from the beginning to win these games. Each game is going to be harder. We have to fight and do something different in order to win the gold."
The players and coaches also got a chance to play tourist while they toured Venice for a day.
"Italy was absolutely wonderful," Harper said of her time in Italy. "We took a tour (in Venice) and we saw all kinds of things. They told us a lot of things we didn't know. The food was absolutely wonderful - gelato and everything was good.
"I am having a lot of fun, seeing different countries and seeing how people live. It's really cool, because it's totally different from the United States."
On the court and off, Harper said the travel, down time and playing experience has benefited the team.
"I think as a team, we are really close," Harper said. "Starting with Colorado, being with each other and having a lot of time away from the court. We have bonded, and we have a lot of memories already -- being on the bus every day and the plane trips. We're really close, and I think it affects us on the court and how we play so well together."
While Harper said the team is having an enjoyable time, there is no question what the goal is.
"I think coach has the same goal from last year," Harper said. "We are here for one thing, and that's a gold medal. She has stuff she wants us to work on in practice, too. For example, one practice we may not have a lot of energy, so the next practice we work on having more energy. Or we weren't talking that much. So, every practice we try to bring something different. We are building. Every day we are getting better."
The proof will be on the court tomorrow, as the USA kicks of it's quest against South Korea.