Athletes Have Great Expectations For 2015 USA Junior National Team Trials
“My expectation for the weekend is definitely some tough competition,” stated Louisville’s Mariya Moore, a gold medalist on the 2014 USA U18 National Team who is trying out for the 2015 USA U19 World Championship Team. “Every day is going to be a battle.”
Moore was not kidding when she made that statement.
On Friday afternoon, 85 of the nation’s top young athletes converged on the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for three days of what can only be classified as intense trials. Three teams eventually will be named to compete for USA Basketball in the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship, Pan American Games and World University Games. With just 12 slots per roster, that leaves 49 players who will not be traveling with USA Basketball this summer.
Among the trials participants are those who have won several gold medals, some who have won a single gold playing in the red, white and blue, others who have been disappointed at not hearing their name called when teams have been announced and still others who are experiencing this for the first time.
Taking the floor are consensus 2015 National High School Player of the Year and Connecticut signee Katie Lou Samuelson, and her future Connecticut teammate and consensus 2015 National Collegiate Player of the Year Breanna Stewart. All-Americans line the floor, which is littered with conference players of the year, all-conference selections and high school Gatorade State Players of the Year. In fact, the trophy case needed to fit every one of the accolades the 85 athletes have accumulated would take up the three courts in the USOTC’s Sports Center 2.
Mississppi State’s freshman Victoria Vivians, a 2015 Associated Press All-America honorable mention, is taking it all in for the first time, but she is not fazed.
“I’m expecting to come out here, play hard, give it my best and whatever happens, happens,” said Vivians prior to her first trials session. “It’ll probably be a little difficult, because everybody here has talent. There’s a lot of good talent.”
One of the most talented athletes on the court is Stewart, who was the youngest member of the gold medalist 2014 USA World Championship Team, and has been through five previous USA Basketball trials. She knows it is never easy. But, she says everyone should, “just come here and make sure you’re giving your full, 100-percent effort the whole time, because you want to separate yourselves from everyone else.”
There is a selection committee tasked with observing the athletes in various situations. Are they vocal? Are they a good teammate? Do they try to do too much, or are they spot-on with what the coaches want from them? Can they play the style of game that will be seen on the international stage?
Like Vivians, Illinois freshman Chatrice White is experiencing her first USA Basketball trials and knows she has to impress the committee in order to hear her name called on Sunday morning.
“I need to show that I am well conditioned, I can run the floor as a post player, and even step out on the perimeter and maybe knock down some 3s, as well as be a big presence inside,” said White prior to stepping out on the court.
While it is hard on the committee members, one of whom is none other than 2008 Olympic gold medalist Kara Lawson, it is not easy on the athletes.
“It’s really tough, because you’re playing against the best players in the world,” said Connecticut’s Moriah Jefferson,who was cut three-straight years before being named to her first team in 2012. “You have to come out, play hard every day and realize that you might not make the team. But, even then you’re pushing to get better for yourself and for the guys that might make it.”
Moore feels more confident than she did last year, not only because her head coach Jeff Walz is one of the U19 assistants, but the 2014 U18 tournament was held at the USOTC. Even with that level of familiarity, Moore is smart enough to know that nothing is guaranteed.
“Just knowing a lot of people here, instead of like last year, coming out not really knowing anyone. It should be a plus for me (this year). I think it’s going to be super tough. But, I’m just ready to go out there and play and do whatever I can,” said Moore
Vivians not only is looking forward to the showing what she can do, she is going to make sure she soaks up the entire experience.
“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “This is my first time here. It’s a great opportunity.”
“This is such an awesome experience, and I’m just blessed to be a part of it,” echoed White.
And as USA U19 World Championship Team and South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said before getting started, “If you make the team, USA Basketball will be the best time of your life. So enjoy it!”
Staley should know. She has been cut from teams only to come back and win three Olympic gold medals.