Existing Bonds Strengthen U.S. Pan American Women’s Basketball Team
While the 2015 U.S. Pan American Women’s Basketball Team is a one-time collection of 12 collegians who will represent the United States in the 2015 Pan American Games women’s basketball competition from July 16-20 in Toronto, Canada, the team has roots that trace back to four years ago.
Playing together and winning gold at the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship were 2015 USA teammates Linnae Harper (Kentucky/Chicago, Ill), Stephanie Mavunga (North Carolina/Brownsburg, Ind.) and Taya Reimer (Notre Dame/Fishers, Ind.).
Moriah Jefferson (Glenn Heights, Texas) and Breanna Stewart (North Syracuse, N.Y.) not only have won three NCAA titles together at the University of Connecticut, they also were teammates on the gold-medal winning USA team at the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
And in 2013, Harper, Jefferson, Kelsey Plum (Washington/Poway, Calif.) and Stewart teamed up to help the USA win gold at the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship.
“Overall, it is really exciting just to see that we had multiple opportunities, and now to see how we’ve grown a lot from our younger days when we were 16 and 17,” said Harper. “It is just an amazing opportunity. They are great teammates. I’m just happy to be able to play with them again.”
“It’s been really fun, because, it’s different,” Reimer added. “We are so used to playing against each other (in college), so to come together, it’s really fun to have a new experience together like that.
“All of the players are a lot more experienced, older, more physical,” Reimer said. “Especially compared to the U16s and U17s, when we were at more of a developmental level. Now, we are older and playing older competition, it’s just a lot tougher. And that’s been good. That’s good for all of us to be playing with each other and practicing with each other and making each other better, and then making ourselves better by playing the competition.”
After beginning training camp at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on July 3, where the team practiced twice a day nearly every day until departing for Toronto on July 9, the team is now settled in the Athletes’ Village, along with an estimated 6,000 competitors from throughout the Americas.
“In our free time, we walk around, seeing the city of Toronto, just enjoying our time,” explained Harper. “We may go out to eat, but most of the time we are in the rooms, talking, being close and cohesive, so we can get to know each other better.
“It’s great, the hospitality is great. The food is good. The living area is nice. It’s also nice to see other players form different countries and see how they are as well.”
Already, the USA also has taken on Brazil and Argentina in scrimmages to prepare and will face Canada in its final pre-competition tune up on July 14.
“It is definitely really helpful,” Reimer said. “It’s hard to gauge things just playing against each other and playing against the (USA) U19s, because, the American style of basketball is a lot different from what we are going to be facing. Now that we’ve played Brazil and Argentina, it definitely gives us an idea of what we will see throughout the competition.”
Five of the USA’s team members, however, will be suiting up in their first USA jersey and playing under FIBA (the international governing body for basketball) rules for the first time.
“I think we have made a lot of progress,” Harper said. “We did a better job rebounding. We also did some nice stuff working through our high-low into the post. And everybody just played harder. I think as the scrimmages go on, we are getting better, we are playing harder, we are just finding ways to win, because when the 16th comes, we need to be ready.
“I think we need these friendly games to see how the style is, because it is different from playing in the states,” Harper continued. “It is more competitive. We can get used to the rules. FIBA Rules are different than how they are in the NCAA.”
Along with the rules, all 12 players are adjusting and becoming a team, although they have been together for just 12 days thus far.
“We spend a lot of time with each other in our down time, so I think that makes it better on the court, when we are trying to stay focused and be able to stay on the same page for a common goal,” said Harper. “I think we understand each other, just trying to find ways to lift each other up, play as a team and do whatever it takes. And to be able to work with the coaches -- they are not our typical coaches that we are used to, so we also have to adjust to them and their style. It’s different but it is a great opportunity.”
After today’s scrimmage against Canada, the USA will have one more day of practice on July 15 before its first game against Brazil at 9 p.m. EDT on July 16 (live on ESPN3).
“I think it is more of an excited feeling,” Harper said of the team’s mood. “We have put in so much work since July 3, doing whatever we can to get ready. Now that it is almost time, it is an indescribable feeling. We are ready. Our coaching staff has been doing a great job of helping us get ready, and we can’t wait to play.”
USA versus Brazil at 9 p.m. EDT on July 16 (live on ESPN3)
USA versus Dominican Republic at 9 p.m. EDT on July 17 (live on ESPN3)
USA versus Puerto Rico at 9 p.m. on July 18 (live on ESPN3)
Semifinals on July 19
Finals on July 20