Trials Sessions In the Books, Let the Waiting Game Begin
Following five trials sessions over a span of three days, the 34 athletes who are hoping to be named to the 12-member USA Basketball Women’s U19 World Championship Team have nothing left to do but wait. Their fifth session ended at 6 p.m. Saturday night, giving them 14 1/2 hours to wait and wonder if they did enough. If they left it all on the line. If they stood out enough in front of the USA Basketball Junior National Team Committee to have the opportunity to play for Hall of Famer Dawn Staley (South Carolina), head coach of the 2015 U19 squad.
No matter what happens in the morning, incoming University of Missouri freshman Sophie Cunningham, a 2014 USA U18 National Team Trials participant, feels confident that she has done all she can and hopes that it was enough.
“You’re just kind of nervous,” said Cunningham. “All of us worked hard. We all want to be on the team. We want to put our best foot forward for USA Basketball.
“It won’t be that hard to sleep because of the altitude, but probably a little more than usual because I’m anxious. I want to know.
“It was more difficult (last year). I didn’t make it last year, but that fueled me. Kind of like what coach (Staley) has been saying. I was really glad I got to come out here again this year. I’m just more prepared for it, so I’m anxious for tomorrow.”
All she and the rest of the 33 participants can do now is wait and hope they hear their name called in the morning.
Following the final trials session, Staley thanked everyone for putting in a great weekend, for all the sacrifices they made to be there, for never letting up and making the selection committee’s job a very difficult one.
Douglasville, Georgia’s Asia Durr, who will represent USA Basketball in June at the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Championships, was one of the athletes who put USA Basketball first. The two-time gold medalist and MVP of the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship was scheduled to graduate from St. Pius X Catholic High School today. However, she opted to try out for her fourth USA Basketball team instead.
“It wasn’t that hard of a decision, because you know it’s high school graduation,” said Durr. “But then again you have to think twice about it. But, this is USA Basketball. This is a dream come true. And I’m just so happy to be here. It was kind of a hard decision, but not that hard. I’m just so happy to be here.”
Competition Getting Tougher
The 34 athletes vying for one of 12 spots on the USA U19 squad range in age from 17 to 19, which may not seem like much. But, when you consider 13 athletes have played one season of NCAA Division I basketball, while nine recently finished their junior year of high school, the stark difference starts to set in. That is not lost on some of the younger athletes.
Take Flower Mound High School’s (Texas) Lauren Cox, who turned 17 less than a month ago and who will be a senior next year. While she has won gold medals playing for USA Basketball at the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship and 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship, she has seen first-hand the level of competition increase at these trials.
“It’s a lot more competitive,” said the 6-foot-4 Cox. “I think I’m the youngest here, and they’re a lot stronger and they have more experience, but I’m just trying to go out and play as hard as I can. It’s fun to play against the best competition in the country.”
She is also vying against athletes such as South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson, who was one of the youngest members of the 2013 USA U19 World Championship Team and MVP of the 2014 FIBA Americas U18 Championship, as well as five other members of the 2014 USA U18 squad.
Cox, who is actually the second-youngest at the U19 trials by only a few weeks, is taking it all in stride. Playing as hard as she can and soaking it all in to improve her game, she is hoping to earn a trip to Russia this summer.
“It shows me I need to get stronger, for one thing, because right now I’m not the strongest,” she added. “And just the pace of the game; it shows what it’s going to be like in college.”
Taking Advantage of the Combined Knowledge
While it’s the third-largest city in the state, Meridian, Idaho, has not historically been known as a hotbed of basketball. However, Mountain View High School junior Destiny Slocum is making scouts begin to notice what is going on in the city of approximately 85,000 residents.
After a break-out summer in 2014, Slocum, who originally verbally committed to the University of Washington, reopened her recruiting process last fall. The extra attention she received from scouts did not faze Slocum. She went on to lead Mountain View to a 26-1 record in 2014-15, its first Idaho 5A state title, and she earned an invitation to the USA U19 team in the process.
Now, the player who put her high school team on the map is surrounded by Olympic-gold-medalists-turned-coaches and learning from USA U19 head coach Dawn Staley, a Hall of Famer with three Olympic gold medals on her resume.
In one scrimmage session, Staley pulled Slocum aside and gave her some pointers.
“She told me to be strong in my dribble and that I needed to slow down and be patient,” Slocum said. “It’s not how fast I go, I need to outsmart them rather than outplay them.
“I think it’s overwhelming, because being in this area with all these people, especially the coaches, there’s so much knowledge out here,” she added. “That’s probably why I like to ask so many questions, because they can help you so much on your game.”
With two sets of trials going on in back-to-back sessions, she’s taking advantage of the opportunity to observe the top college players in the country who are competing for spots on the USA Pan American Games and World University Games teams. Slocum has been returning to the gym as soon as possible following her morning and evening sessions, after eating and showering, to watch the older players in order to see first-hand how she needs to play at the next level.
“I want to get better each session, each session work on something that a coach told me before (after the previous session),” Slocum said. “Really, just to improve and get better. Even if I don’t make the team, I want to come out with something that I can learn and fix.”