A Rookie In 2013, A’ja Wilson Looking To Lead USA U19 Team in 2015
Two years ago, 16-year-old A’ja Wilson tried out for and was named to her first USA Basketball team. The youngest member of the 2013 USA U19 World Championship Team, Wilson had the enviable experience of practicing daily against some of the nation’s top standouts such as Baylor’s Alexis Jones and Connecticut’s Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck.
That USA U19 squad went on to capture the USA’s fifth-straight FIBA U19 World Championship behind the MVP performance of Stewart. In the process, the trio of Jones, Stewart and Tuck became the USA’s first repeat U19 team members, and this year Wilson will become the fourth to twice represent USA Basketball at a FIBA U19 Worlds.
It was a learning experience for Wilson in 2013, who two years later is embracing the role of team captain and attempting to impart some of what she learned as a rookie to the younger athletes on her 2015 U19 squad.
“It’s crazy,” she said about the difference in her role over the past two years. “I go from looking at everyone, taking it all in, to having people look at me like, ‘Okay, what do we do, A’ja?’ It’s really huge for me to take on that role. I take it with a lot of honor and pride, to have those three letters across my chest and be a leader on this court is something that I really take pride in.
“I’m trying to help them out as best as I can with what I learned from the (2013) U19s,” she added. “Because it’s totally different from what we played last year in the (U18) qualifier. I don’t want the people who were on the team last year to think that’s how the competition is going to be this year. So, that’s one way I’m trying to help. I’m trying to stress that the level of competition is going to be totally different.”
Following 15 practice sessions in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the USA team departed for Europe and a pre-U19 exhibition tournament where the USA will face U19 teams from Australia, Canada and Spain, July 12-14 in Mercia, Spain.
Wilson, whose team in 2013 also competed in a friendly round-robin tournament against the same countries prior to traveling to Lithuania for the U19 World Championship, knows how much her team will benefit from the tune-up in Spain.
“That was very important for us,” said Wilson. “It gave the people who hadn’t played international basketball, like myself, the chance to see what it’s like before we got to the huge tournament. I thought that was a huge thing for us to have underneath our belt. I’m glad we’re going there again to play them, just to see the different styles of basketball, see what people bring to the table.”
Like last time around, the USA U19 team is comprised of a mix of athletes who have a year of college experience, some who have played for USA Basketball in the past and others who will don the red, white and blue for the first time.
“This is a great team,” said Wilson. “We’re young; we’re really young. But I think it’s great when we put things together. We’re quick learners, but at the same time there are times when we kind of forget things. The best part is that we learn quickly. We pick up things really quickly. It helps that some of us already have a year in college under our belts. I’m excited to see how we do later on in Russia.”
Opening the exhibition tournament against Australia on July 12, the U.S. will face Canada on July 13 and close the tournament on July 14. From there, the team will head to Chekhov, Russia, where it will have two days of practice to finalize preparations for the July 18-26 FIBA U19 World Championship.
For those who have never had the experience of international competition, Wilson, who was voted the team captain last week by her peers, has been stressing to her teammates how different the play will be.
“It’s different,” said Wilson. “It’s physical. They’re not going to get calls that normally get called. That’s why coach (Jeff) Walz is a great referee for us in practices. He doesn’t call those ticky-tack fouls that we get in America. Even when we play against the guys, we’re screaming ‘three seconds!’ but not everybody in the international level calls three seconds or calls over the back fouls, so I’ve been telling them that they’re not going to get everything that they think they will. They just have to play through it.”
As in 2013 when Jones, Stewart and Tuck took the reigns of the team and taught their teammates how difficult the competition would be at the U19 level, Wilson has not let up in reminding her 2015 teammates of the same thing.
“I hope that these girls really understand that we are here to win a gold medal and we’re not settling for anything less than a gold medal,” added Wilson, who will no doubt make sure her teammates are ready for whatever comes their way in Russia.
You can follow the 2015 USA U19 World Championship Team throughout its journey on Twitter at #USABwu19.
USA vs. Spain • July 18 @ 1:15 p.m. EDT (live online: YouTube.com/FIBA)
USA vs. China • July 19 @ 1:15 p.m. EDT (live online: YouTube.com/FIBA)
USA vs. Egypt • July 21 @ 1:15 p.m. EDT (live online: YouTube.com/FIBA)
Round of 16 TBD • July 22
Quarterfinals TBD • July 24
Semifinals TBD • July 25
Finals TBD • July 26