No Longer The Youngest, USA Basketball Veterans Brianna Turner and A’ja Wilson Return as Leaders
• Photo Gallery: Session I
There are only three athletes among the list of 28 of the nation’s top 18-and-unders who have experience playing international basketball. And only two of them -- Notre Dame commit Brianna Turner (Manvel H.S./Pearland, Texas) and South Carolina signee A’ja Wilson (Heathwood Hall H.S./Hopkins, S.C.) -- have won at least one gold medal at an age-based FIBA World Championship.
Both have returned a little older and a little wiser, yet still excited about the opportunity that awaits them.
“It’s really exciting,” said Turner about being back at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for her chance to make a fifth USA Basketball team. “I’ve missed it. I’ve been here for the past five years it seems like home.”
“It’s great,” added Wilson, who is striving for a slot on her second USA Basketball team. “It is. It’s a blessing to be back out here. Nothing has really changed; well, the construction went away. But, I’m excited. I’m excited for the weekend and ready to have a lot of fun.”
The youngest members of the 2013 USA U19 World Championship Team this past summer, Turner and Wilson combined to average 16.6 points and 13.0 rebounds a game with Wilson posting a team-high 7.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots a game to go with a team third-best 10.9 points an outing. Turner, meanwhile, also was a steady presence off the bench and averaged 5.7 points and 5.1 rebounds a game.
In addition to her U19 gold, Turner has a gold medal from the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship and a pair of gold medals from the 2012 and 2013 FIBA 3x3 U18 World Championships. She also participated in the 2011 USA U16 National Team Trials.
Obviously, the mind-set will change from an athlete’s first trials to their second, third or fourth. Coming in for the first time, the athletes don’t know what to expect or how to approach things. As a veteran, Turner is viewing this weekend differently than she did in the past.
“I think I can take more of a leadership approach (this year),” said Turner. “I learned a lot from Morgan Tuck last year. She’s a really great leader. So, I think I can bring some of what I learned to this year’s trials.”
Despite their respective USA Basketball credentials, nobody is assured of a spot on the team. However, given that Turner and Wilson were the two youngest members of the 2013 USA U19 squad, nobody would be surprised if the duo formed the cornerstone of this year’s U18 squad. Much like two-time NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player and 2014-16 USA Basketball Women’s National Team member Breanna Stewart, who was one of the youngest members of the 2011 USA U19 team before returning as one of the leaders of the 2012 USA U18 National Team.
“That’s my biggest thing about this year, taking a leadership role,” Wilson said. “I’m just trying to think about what I saw last year and transition it over to this year. I’ve taken a lot from that experience, and hopefully I can transition and bring it back here.”
As for what else they are excited about over the next few days, Turner is relishing the idea of getting onto the court and competing with the rest of the participants this weekend, while Wilson can’t wait to spend the weekend being coached by three-time Olympic gold medalist and her future college coach at the University of South Carolina, Dawn Staley.
“This is a really great group of girls,” said Turner. “They’re really competitive, so I’m really excited. I know a lot of them from playing the McDonald’s All-American Game and stuff. I really like them. They’re a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to playing with them.”
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” stated Wilson. “(Coach Staley) is going to be a hard worker. I don’t think she’s going to take anything off of anyone. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun being out here with her.”
No matter what happens over the course of the weekend, it’s going to be a remarkable experience for everyone involved, and come Monday night, we will all know for sure if Turner and Wilson once again will be donning the red, white and blue.