USA Women Ready To Defend U18 Gold Medal
Colorado Springs, Colorado
The journey for the 2014 USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team technically began with trials for the team back in May, but now, after 11 days of training camp from July 26 through Aug. 5, it is time for the real fun to start.
The USA U18 women, which will be looking for a seventh-straight gold medal in FIBA Americas U18 Championship play, will tip off against Mexico at 6 p.m (MDT) on Aug. 6 in Sports Center I at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
With a few exceptions, the USA has practiced twice each day. Typically, the team practiced in the morning and scrimmaged local volunteers in the evenings, at least that was before Canada, Brazil and Chile arrived in the past few days. Then, the USA scrimmaged those teams.
“After going a week of two-a-day practices and now getting a chance to scrimmage and play against other teams, we are excited,” said Paris Kea (Page H.S./Greensboro, N.C.), a U.S. guard and Vanderbilt incoming freshman. “We are having fun.”
Most of the players however, including Kea, will admit that training camp has been challenging as well. One factor that U.S. forward/center Beatrice Mompremier (Miami H.S./Miami, Fla.) said she was not prepared for is the elevation of Colorado Springs, which sits at more than 6,000 feet above sea level.
“I guess I was not in good condition when I came,” Mompremier said. “The altitude made it hard for me to breathe. It has gotten way better from the first day, though.”
It is not only the physical condition of the team members that have dramatically improved for the USA. Head coach Dawn Staley (University of South Carolina) said she is excited about the evolution of the team’s defense.
“There has been a ton of growth from the very first scrimmage that we had where we had maybe about an hour practice, and then we scrimmaged some very good guys,” Staley said. “It exposed us, and actually, it made me as a coach speed up some of the things that I wanted to implement to help them along the way. The number one thing was defense, and I think this team has come a long, long way in just a week with the versatile things that we can do from a defensive standpoint.
“I think we are getting excited,” Staley said about the upcoming tournament. “We have beat each other up in the morning practice and then depending on who we scrimmaged, either we were getting beat up, or we had some pretty good competition in some of the other national teams. I think we want to play for a stake, for a gold medal. That’s why we are here, so we are getting a little bit antsy about playing the real competition.”
As it did in 2006 and 2010, USA Basketball is hosting the FIBA Americas U18 Championship for Women in Colorado Springs, and Kea said the language barrier is one of the most interesting things about this experience. Most of the teams including Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico and Puerto Rico, speak Spanish, Brazil speaks Portuguese, and Canada, of course, speaks English.
“It’s kind of fun,” Kea explained. “You kind of laugh at everything. Not really knowing what to say, so you just grin and smile and wave.
“We are trying not to stare too much. We are trying to welcome them to the training center and welcome them to the USA.”
Another adjustment for the U.S. team is that FIBA and FIBA Americas basketball rules are significantly different than American basketball, including the fact that no player can call a timeout, ever, and that timeouts only can be called on a dead ball.
Even Staley, who is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and was an assistant coach for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team is learning along the way.
“There is not a lot of breakage in the game, so to find a way to comfortably substitute without having your players totally exhausted, it’s challenging,” Staley said. “But we are using this time to figure those things out. When you can’t stop the game by using a timeout, it’s kind of hard to manage that.”
While the team members and coaches have improved on their all-around understanding of international basketball and worked on developing the team’s execution, one thing that has come naturally is the team’s style of play.
“I think the strength of this team is versatility,” Staley said. “We have a couple of people that can play different positions. They allow us to play different types of defenses as well, in a short period of time, which is a true mark of a good team —being able to make adjustments and execute those adjustments.”
Also emerging in the past 11 days has been the team’s chemistry. For Mompremier, that has been one of the highlights of her time with USA Basketball.
“That everyone cheers each other on and encourages everybody to get better,” Mompremier responded when asked about the best part of training camp.
Soon, though, the highlights for the players undoubtedly will come from one of its five games.
“I have kind of imaged it,” Mompremier said of taking the court wearing her USA Basketball jersey. “I’m excited to play, just excited to play.”
If you are in the Colorado Springs area, the tournament is free admission and open to the public. You can also watch it live online at fibaamericas.com.