USA Women Set for Opener at 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship
Pilsen, Czech Republic
The 2014 USA Women’s U17 World Championship Team, which over the past week has compiled a 3-1 record in exhibition play and earned a win in a friendly scrimmage against Australia, will see its record reset to 0-0 on June 28 as it opens play in the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship in Pilsen, Czech Republic.
It has been 16 days since the team gathered for training camp on June 12, and because of travel days that have seen the USA go from Colorado to France to the Czech Republic, the USA has had just 12 days of practices.
“As a coach, I don’t think you ever feel like you are completely, totally prepared,” said Sue Phillips (Archbishop Mitty/San Jose Cagers AAU, Calif.). “Best case scenario, I would certainly like more time to refine some things that we are doing on both sides of the basketball, however, I do feel confident that we are playing inspired basketball.”
One thing working in the team’s favor is that the entire coaching staff, including assistant coaches Mary Coyle Klinger (Rutgers Preparatory School, N.J.) and Brian Robinson (Bishop McGuinness H.S./Stealers AAU, N.C.), as well as seven U.S. players, return in 2014 after having helped the USA qualify for the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship with a 5-0 record and gold medal at the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Cancun, Mexico.
“Absolutely it helps to have seven returners,” Phillips said. “I have a feel for them; they have a feel for me. We have a system that we somewhat put in place last summer that we continue to build on. There is less of a learning curve for the majority of them.”
One of those returners is De’Janae Boykin (Charles H. Flowers H.S./Springdale, Md.), who said she felt good about the team’s status.
“We’ are excited, ready to play,” Boykin said. “I think we’ve worked hard through all of our practices and gotten a lot better. The team chemistry is great.”
One of the five newcomers to USA Basketball, Kennedy Burke (Sierra Canyon School/Northridge, Calif.), echoed Boykin’s sentiment about the team’s strong chemistry.
“Off the court, we have good chemistry,” Burke said. “On the court, it’s alright, for right now, but it will continue to get better as we play together more.”
The FIBA U17 World Championship will feature the best teams from around the world, and the competition is stiff.
One of the ways the USA tried to prepare for what it will face is to participate in an exhibition tournament June 20-22 in Nogent Sur Seine, France, that saw the team top China (89-49) and Canada (80-45) before falling to hose France (78-72) in the championship game.
The USA will see two of those teams in preliminary round play as it takes on China at 6 p.m. (12 p.m. EDT) on June 28 and France at 6 p.m. (12 p.m. EDT) on June 29. Its final preliminary round opponent will be Mali at 6 p.m. (12 p.m. EDT) on July 1. All of the USA’s games ahead of the semifinals and finals are available online at www.youtube.com/user/FIBAWorld.
“We are excited, because the first time we played China and France, it was more like practice games,” Burke said. “This time we are ready for them.”
Not only will the U.S. team have been together for just 16 days, but it also will be playing under international rules, as opposed to the American rules the U.S. players are familiar with at their respective high schools and summer teams.
FIBA basketball features a 24-second shot-clock, an eight-second limit to get the ball across half court and at no point can any player call a timeout -- just to name a few of the differences.
“I don’t think the rules will impact the outcome of a game,” Phillips said. “Certainly the style of international basketball is a bit different, and I continue to learn, which is a good thing.”
The USA players and coaches also said they learned from their loss to France, but that no single team worries them more than their next opponent.
“We are not really worried about the competition,” Boykin said. “We just have to play our game.”
“Every team is very talented,” Burke added. “We have to step up and play how we play.”
Following the preliminary round, all teams will be seeded within their groups and will advance to the Round of 16, which will be played on July 2. Winners of the Round of 16 will advance to the July 4 quarterfinals. The semifinals will be played on July 5, and the gold medal game is set for July 6.
For Phillips, talk of any game other than China is premature.
“Our focus right now is China, and that’s all I’m thinking bout for the next 24 hours,” Phillips said.
Since the first FIBA U17 World Championship in 2010, the USA has seen its teams compile a 16-0 record on its way to capturing both gold medals that have been up for grabs.
“I think if you focus on the wins and losses, you tend to lose sight of the process,” Phillips said of the U.S. legacy at this event. “Ultimately, we need to be responsible for the type of basketball that we are playing, the kind of effort that we are producing and as a staff the kind of adjustment that we are making. The wins and losses will be a byproduct of that process.”
Another byproduct of the USA’s preparation has been world travel that including a tour of Paris on June 23.
“It’s been great,” Phillips said of the experience thus far. “Being able to see the world while coaching a game that I love. Being around people who I respect and enjoy, it’s just been an absolute blessing.”
Since July 24, however, USA has been comfortably settled in a hotel in Pilsen, but regardless of their hospitable surroundings, the players and coaches are anxious to get started.
“I think any team in the tournament at this point in time is a formidable opponent, and if we don’t show up and play inspired basketball, we will be in trouble,” Phillips said.
And what is the USA’s style? In a word: fast.
“Our strengths are our versatility, our athleticism, our ability to score in transition and I think we can create offense from our defense,” Phillips said.
In about 24 hours, whether the USA can play to those strengths no longer will be speculation.