Golden Dreams Start Here
This weekend at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, 156 athletes are vying for a spot on their first USA Basketball team at the USA Women’s U16 National Team Trials. While the odds might not be in everyone’s favor -- the 156 participants will be reduced to 12 by May 25 -- the athletes have arrived feeling positive that the weekend will be a success.
One of those athletes is Zia Cooke, a guard from McTigue Middle School in Toledo, Ohio. She showed up at check-in with her own basketball and carries it wherever she goes. Like everyone else in Colorado Springs this weekend, Cooke has aspirations of playing for USA Basketball, and when the opportunity arose, she was first in line to send in her application.
“It was always my dream to go to the USA (trials), so when I found out I could go, I just did it,” said Cooke prior to the start of trials. “It took me a long way, a lot of hard work (to get here). I’m just going to play my hardest to make it.”
Like Cooke, Chapin High School’s (Chapin, S.C.) Regan Dargan, “Just wanted to have the opportunity to try out for the team.” Dargan also feels that she, “can give speed and wisdom and be a good teammate.”
While 34 of the athletes were invited to participate in the May 21-25 trials by the USA Basketball Women’s Developmental National Team Committee, 122 players were accepted as applicant athletes and all 156 players are eligible for a position on the 2015 USA U16 National Team that will play in the 2015 FIBA Americas U16 Championship from June 24-28 in Puebla, Mexico.
For East Ridge High School 6-foot forward Kelen Kenol, who arrived in Colorado Springs from Woodbury, Minnesota, on Thursday, this weekend marks her second experience at a USA Basketball open trials. She also tried out for the 2014 USA U17 World Championship Team, and after a positive experience, despite not making the team, thought it was worth the time and effort to make a return.
“I definitely learned a lot,” said Kenol of her experience in 2014. “I learned mostly about myself as a player: what I can do, what I need to work on, what are my strengths, what are my weaknesses. Coming into this trials I definitely worked on a lot of those things that I learned last year, and I felt prepared to come back this year.”
After the first year of open trials in 2011, which saw athletes such as Notre Dame’s Lindsay Allen and North Carolina’s Jessica Washington submit an application to attend trials, many of the applicant athletes were invited back to try out for the 2012 USA U17 World Championship Team. And of those 2011 applicant-turned-2012 invitees, both Allen and Washington were named to the 2012 U17 squad and helped the USA capture FIBA U17 World Championship gold.
The fact that athletes have risen through the applicant ranks to USA Basketball teams further boosts the anticipation for the weekend’s events.
“I’m really excited,” said Kelon. “Right now I’m just trying to get all the nerves and jitters out, but it’s really a good experience to come and see how the trials process goes. I was here last year, too, so I kind of know what’s happening, but at the same time I still don’t know what to expect. The whole experience is really nice, so I’m excited.”
While the overall weekend’s activities tipped-off Thursday night with an orientation on USA Basketball, followed by skills clinics, position work and a seminar on strategies for maximum performance, the actual trials sessions do not begin until Friday evening.
Dargan, who said she is feeling “pretty confident” received some insight from a two-time USA Basketball gold medalist prior to traveling to Colorado.
Dargan’s fellow South Carolinian A’Ja Wilson was succinct and to the point. “She told me to expect intensity and to give it my all,” said Dargan, who is also looking forward to the seminars as well as the on-court sessions. “We haven’t really had seminars at the camps I’ve been to. So, I feel like it’ll be a learning opportunity.”
Everyone is looking forward to showing off their skills and making a case for the committee to call their names out as one of the 2015 USA U16 National Team members on Monday morning, and Cooke is no different.
“I can drive,” said Cooke. “I’m a great passer. I look for my teammates. I just feel like I have something that a lot of people haven’t seen before.”
And despite the fact that there are 156 athletes trying out for just 12 slots, Kelon did not hesitate when asked if it was worth it to come back.
“Yes, definitely,” she stated.
USA Basketball’s hope is that everyone gets better, has a positive experience and feels that it was worth spending Memorial Day Weekend in the gym. And if Kelon’s perspective is any indication, it will be worth it.