Southern Starz Return To USA Basketball 3x3 U18 National Tournament
Imagine a coach calling you to form a 3x3 team with players from other states that you have never played basketball with, particularly a game with different rules.
That is exactly what happened to form the Southern Starz who will be competing in this weekend’s USA Basketball 3x3 U18 National Tournament.
“Doug Birch is our coach, he brought us together,” explained Erin Boley (Elizabethtown H.S./Hodgenville, Ky.), who has previously participated in two USA team trials. “We have a lot of talent on our team, which is exciting. We have a lot of quickness. We have a lot of speed. We played in the qualifying tournament; where we played really well together as everyone can shoot the ball and everyone can drive really well. I think it is going to be a great team.”
The team of four features University of Alabama signee Shaquera Wade (Huntsville H.S./Huntsville, Ala.), the Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year, and Boley, who has committed to the University of Notre Dame and is the Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year, alongside Kennedy Gavin (Petal H.S./Petal Miss.) and Nia Hollie (Hopkins H.S./Brooklyn Park, Minn.), who are still undecided about where they will go to college.
The athletes, who only have played together once at their qualifying tournament
, put on by the Winston-Salem Stealers in North Carolina, are hoping to earn the opportunity to represent USA Basketball at the 2015 FIBA 3x3 U18 World Championship, June 4-7 in Debrecen, Hungary.
In order to do that, the team must win the 2015 USA Basketball 3x3 U18 National Tournament, which will include eight women’s teams that qualified at 3x3 tournaments across the nation.
The teams have been drawn into preliminary-round pools – two pools of four teams based on each team’s FIBA 3x3 ranking. Following round-robin play within the groups on May 2, teams will be seeded within each pool, and advance to the championship round, held on May 3.
In addition to the national tournament, the 3x3 U18 weekend will include a skills challenge, a 3-point competition and a partner hot-shot competition, all of which will be contested on May 1.
Wade, last year’s winner of the hot-shot competition, considers the event different, yet fun.
“It was different,” Wade said. “It was full of talent and fun. I did not think that we were going to win because there were so many people there who could shoot.”
Despite a different teammate this year, Wade is aiming to win the hot-shot competition again.
“We have Erin [Boley], who took Chassity’s [Carter] spot, she is going to be a big fill-in because Chassity herself is a good shooter,” Wade explained. “She and I worked well together; we did a good job in the hot-shot completion last year. I am sure we will be able defend that title this year.”
Her partner, Boley, already has a game plan for defending the hot-shot competition title.
“We will have to be quick,” Boley said. “We will have to get the rebound as soon as we can, then get it back out. Being able to shoot in a reboundable way, like no long misses or off the rim, it will have to be a soft miss so we can get it back quickly. We will also have to be confident in each other. We will both have to shoot really well, but confidence is key for us to win again this year.”
Along with winning the hot-shot competition, the Southern Starz finished second to Defend in the 3x3 U18 National Tournament, a team that included USA Junior National Team veterans, De’Janae Boykin (Charles H. Flowers H.S./Springdale, Md.), Natalie Chou (Plano West Senior H.S./Plano, Texas), Napheesa Collier (Incarnate Word Academy/O’Fallon, Mo.) and Arike Ogunbowale (Divine Savior Holy Angels H.S./Milwaukee Wis.).
“Knowing and playing against them last year, I know what to expect, what to tell my teammates that have never been in this situation before,” stated Wade. “I will have to step up, play the leader role to do what is best for my teammates. I have to tell them what we have coming for us.”
“The (3x3) games are a lot shorter, they are only 10 minutes max so it is a different pace,” added Boley about playing 3x3. “There is no time to rest ever. You go offense straight to defense with the transition. It is a much faster pace.”
The Southern Starz will face two of the same players from Defend, Chou and Ogunbowale, during this weekend’s tournament. And Ogunbowale, who will play at Notre Dame in the fall and who is a two-time winner of the USA Basketball 3x3 U18 National Tournament, has plenty of international 3x3 experience, having captured gold at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, 2013 FIBA 3x3 U18 World Championship and 2013 FIBA Americas 3x3 U18 Championship.
Regardless of the tournament’s outcome, the Southern Starz are looking forward to the opportunity to further their basketball knowledge and skills.
“Even if we don’t win, we will learn a lot to go to the next level with,” said Wade. “It will be a great experience. The USA (3x3 U18) National Tournament last year was a great experience. I gained a lot from last year.”
Along with this unique experience, Boley is hoping to gain some skills useful for her basketball career.
“I have been trying to work on my one-on-one game, being able to make moves off the dribble and working on my ball handling. I think that this 3x3 tournament will force me to have to match up to all kinds of players, all position of players. I will have to figure out how I can score one-on-one. It will force me to have to handle the ball well.”
With the same goals, the teammates have complete faith in one another.
“I trust them," Wade said "I believe that they can stop them even though we have only played together once, I still trust and believe that they can stop our opponents."