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USA Women’s U17 National Team Trials: Tales Beyond The Numbers

  • Author:
    Jimena Panduro
  • Date:
    May 23, 2014

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Yesterday marked the first day of the 2014 USA Basketball Women’s U17 World Championship Team trials.

More than 140 girls from all over the country arrived at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to vie for a spot in the 12-member roster that will represent the United States at the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship for Women in Czech Republic June 28-July 6.

Upon their arrival, a pretty traditional step-by-step process went into effect, as each girl was assigned a number, got a headshot, went through health forms with athletic trainers and got ready for orientation.

The whole five-day experience, however, is anything but traditional. Exhilarating would be a more appropriate definition.

As with any large group of people competing for a handful of spots, anticipation, excitement and nerves were on display.

Luckily, all of these feelings were also quickly shed, as talent and the pure thrill of participating and playing alongside some of the best young basketball players in the nation, overtook those pesky nerves and created a fun environment full of new learning experiences, friendships and memories.

Some of these memories began right away, as the large group quickly produced a solid amount of really cool storylines.

A participant born in Alaska? Check. Siblings? Check. Girls who aren’t in their teens yet or have never flown before? Check and check.

On its third U16 or U17 trials to include applicant players, the success USA Basketball has enjoyed has been extraordinary, as more than 100 girls threw their names in the ring this year and were accepted, thus helping create an even more competitive and diverse playing field.

Me, Myself and My Sister

Despite having 11 pairs of teammates partaking in this year’s trials, there is only one set of siblings.

For Bailey and Samantha Thompson (Marian H.S./Rochester Hills, Mich.), the title of teammates comes second to the much more important one that is sisters.

“We’re so excited to be here. It’s really special to share this experience with each other,” Bailey said.

With each girl having to participate in two or three sessions per day, the routine can become grueling. This won’t be the case for the Michigan natives however, as they believe the best part of having each other here, is that they have someone to always rely on and that will push them to be better and do better.

“We mostly support each other,” Samantha continued. “We just want each other to do well and we don’t want to compete that much with each other. We want to improve.”

Furthermore, Samantha admitted that she does not like to be by herself too much, which makes the fact that her sister has come along for the ride a much less scary experience.

Road to the Springs

With trials being held in the city of Colorado Springs, the participants have had to make trips varying from a few miles, to a few hundred, to a few thousand.

For two girls in particular the journey to the Olympic Training Center has been an experience they will cherish forever.

Rhianna Council (Northern H.S./Durham, N.C.) traveled to Colorado from North Carolina with her dad.

She flew, to be more specific, in what was her first flight ever. Considering the hail and pouring rain that Colorado experienced on Wednesday, it is safe to say she had a ‘one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-forgotten’, first time traveler experience.

“At first it was good, but as we got to Colorado it was kind of bumpy and scary, but we made it through!,” she said with a hint of relief.

Council is confident that those first time jitters are gone for good and is in fact looking forward to flying again, especially because the view is worth it.

“It was just so beautiful to see the fields and mountains from up there.”

In Ruthy Hebard’s (West Valley H.S./Fairbanks, Alaska) case, it wasn’t so much about the unexpected as much as the distance.

Hebard’s trip meant enduring over 3,000 miles of travel in order to make it to the U.S. Olympic Training Center, as she is the only athlete that originates from Alaska.

“The trip was long, but it’s nice here so it’s okay; I liked it.”

Coming from a state not often associated with, or referred to, as the mecca of basketball, doesn’t faze her. She is confident that this experience will transform into a very special one.

“It’s alright,” Hebard said on the basketball culture in Alaska. “I wish it was a bit more, but it’s still a nice place to live in. Being here (in Colorado) is so exciting though. Just playing against all of these girls and seeing such different competition from Alaska should be really fun. I also can’t wait to make some new friends.”

Young and Younger

In order to participate in this year’s trials, the girls must have been born on Jan. 1, 1997, or earlier. Meaning they are all either 17 years old or younger.

The average age ranges between 15-16, but a few exceptions are in tow.

This is the case for Brianna Ellis (Calvary Christian Academy/Palm Coast, Fla.), who at 12 years of age is the youngest participant this weekend.

Fortunately for Ellis, there is the other side of the spectrum.

At seventeen years old, Allazia Blockton (Dominican H.S./Milwaukee, Wis.) is the oldest participant at the trials, and it is the intangibles like her expertise and guidance, that will provide younger players like Ellis the confidence and support to get through the next few days.

“I feel that being a little older than some girls, I can be more of a leader and try to talk more on the court and help everyone out,” Blockton said.

“If somebody’s down, I can try to pick them back up and encourage them. I’m excited about the hard work we have ahead.”

Blockton sees these trials as a chance to not only help others, but also as an opportunity to grow as a player and as a person.

“I want to make the team, but even just being accepted to come here and try out is a great experience. I’m excited to meet new people, make friends, and meet great basketball players.”

A Unique Opportunity

With day two kicking off this morning, the girls are set for a jam-packed next couple of days ahead.

The common sentiment, aside from hoping to make the team, seems to be that they are all aiming to make this an unforgettable experience -- one they wish to enjoy, appreciate and learn from at every possible turn.

For the Thompson sisters, this means going beyond the breakdown of plays or drills.

“We are hoping to grow, see how we can develop our game, find our weaknesses and strengths, and see who we are as players and as individuals,” said Samantha Thomas.

They also wish, along with every other participant, to make some new friends.

With more than 140 girls in attendance, that really should not be a problem.

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