Competitiveness An Inherited Trait For USA U18 Guard Napheesa Collier
Colorado Springs, Colorado
You might think that after having made four trips to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the past two years that Napheesa Collier (Incarnate Word Academy/O’Fallon, Mo.) would feel comfortable in knowing what to expect from her fifth such journey. Not so said the 6-1 guard/forward, who is suiting up on her first USA Basketball national team.
“This is the first time that I’ve actually been up here because I made the team, so I was just thinking about how good all these girls are and how good the competition is going to be,” Collier said of her trip out to Colorado on July 26.” I’m really going to have to do my best to stand out in this field of all these good players.”
Collier and her 11 teammates on the 2014 USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team were selected after six trials sessions from May 24-26 that featured 28 of the nation’s best players at 18 years old or younger. The team will look to capture the USA’s seventh-straight gold medal in women’s FIBA Americas U18 Championship play.
“I’ve been working with my trainer a lot. I’ve been running a lot because of the altitude, just doing what I could to get better,” Collier said of her time between the trials and the start of training camp on July 26.
“I have no idea what to expect, because this is my first time, and neither do any of the girls because it is a new coach. So, I think we are all going through it together, trying to adjust.”
The team, which lists six players who graduated high school in 2014 and six players who have one year left of the prep careers, including Collier, is under the direction of University of South Carolina head coach and three-time Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley as well as USA assistant coaches Kim Barnes Arico (University of Michigan) and Jeff Walz (University of Louisville).
“They are awesome,” Collier said of her USA coaches. “I really like all of them. They are really encouraging.
“It’s definitely hard,” Collier said of the two-a-day practices. “I’m a little sore, but it will all be worth it when we start playing.”
Collier, who has verbally committed to attend and compete for the University of Connecticut in 2015-16, is playing with USA Basketball on the heels of a junior season at Incarnate Word that saw her team finish 31-1 and in possession of a second-straight Missouri Class 4 state championship, and she averaged 23.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 4.2 steals and 2.0 blocks per game in 2013-14.
She garnered a long list of accolades following this season, highlighted by selections to the USA Today All-Missouri first team and the MaxPreps All-American first team, as well as being named the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Class 4 Player of the Year and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch All-Metro Player of the Year.
It should come as no surprise that Collier hails from an athletic family. Her father, Gamal Collier, played rugby at Buckingham University in England; her uncle, Roland Morrow, competed in baseball and basketball at Hannibal LaGrange College (Mo.) and baseball at Central Missouri University; her cousins Dwain Polly, Cody Morrow and Derek Morrow played baseball in college; her cousins Judy Busch and Vonda Luethen played basketball in college; and her cousin Brandon Morrow competed in golf as a collegian.
“I would say I am very competitive,” Collier said. “My whole family is so competitive; anything we do, everyone wants to win. So, I kind of grew up that way.
“With my family, I am a sore loser, because I’ve grown up with them, and I really want to beat them, and it’s mostly teasing. In competition, of course it sucks to lose, but I don’t take it out on other people. I don’t act differently than when I win.”
This summer it won’t just be at the 2014 FIBA Americas U18 Championship that Collier has a chance to win gold. After her 3x3 team, Defend, won the 2014 USA Basketball 3x3 U18 National Championship, she and her teammates earned the right to represent the USA at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games 3x3 basketball competition from Aug. 16-28 in Nanjing, China.
Her first two USA Basketball experiences in 2013 also were 3x3 competitions as Collier and Primus finished second at the 2013 USA Basketball 3x3 National Championship and second at the 2013 USA 3x3 U18 National Championship, falling in the finals to her current U18 teammate Brianna Turner’s (Manvel H.S./Pearland, Texas) 3x3 team.
“I’m so excited to go to China,” Collier said. “3x3 is a little bit more fun for me, because I like to drive and penetrate, and it is way easier in 3x3. You do have to change your game, but it’s not hard, it’s fun. I don’t think it is a hard transition to go back and forth.”
Of course, Collier also will be playing with her AAU team this summer, and for her, there always is a reason to stay focused, and it is a simple reason – winning.
“Winning in general,” Collier said when asked what helps her stay motivated. “With our high school team, our goal is to win state. With our AAU team, our goal is to win tournaments. Now, our goal is to win gold.”
Playing for her country is another reason Collier feels motivated to work as hard as she can over the next few weeks, and months. With an aunt, an uncle and two cousins serving or retired from the U.S. military, Collier is aware of what it means to play with U-S-A on her chest.
“We are here at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, and they are fighting for the USA, so it’s a chance to show them how proud we are and to play for our country.
“I’m so excited for the tournament. That is what is pushing us through all of these hard practices, just thinking about the tournament.”
And what does she hope to accomplish? – winning a gold medal, of course, but also to play up to her potential.
“I just wanted to stand out. The other girls are all so good, so I am going to work my hardest and show them how hard I can work.
“It would be amazing to win a gold medal. It would be like everything you had ever worked for finally paid off. You get to represent your country and win a gold medal. It would just be amazing.”