Then and Now; Differences For Alaina Coates
For Alaina Coates (South Carolina/Irmo, S.C.) four years has made all the difference.
“Well, I kind of always wanted to do the USA thing,” said Coates. “I tried out when I was younger, and I didn't make it. After that, I got asked to come back, but I declined for personal reasons.
“(This time) I felt like I was at a point where I was able to showcase my talent, because I know when I was younger I was not really giving it all that I had. I felt like I had something to prove from back then, so I wanted to take this opportunity to play for USA. I want to be an Olympian one day, so when the opportunity was put before me I did not hesitate to take it.”
Since participating in the 2011 USA Basketball U16 National Team Trials as a high school sophomore, Coates has grown mentally and physically, which she says are the reasons she was able to earn a spot on the 2015 USA Women’s Pan American Games team.“I am not afraid to do most things that I was, like take outside shots. I am more confident with my moves under the basket. When I take outside shots, whether it goes in or goes out, I am confident with that.
“My free throw shooting definitely has improved,” Coates continued. “I know when I was a senior in high school, I was great at them, then I wasn't that good towards the beginning of my season. I saw it as something that I wanted to improve on. That is something that I continue to do.
“I have improved on being an emotional leader as well. My freshman year, I was getting hype and last year too, especially when the team was down, coming off the bench you have to be like that sixth man. You have to be that person for your teammates. I took it upon myself to be like that, that extra voice, that extra energy for who ever is on the floor.”
Coates earned 2014 SEC Freshman of the year honors as she set a South Carolina freshman record with 73 blocks, which ranked second on the all-time single-season list, third in the SEC and seventh nationally among freshman with 2.1 blocks per game. She also set a program freshman record of 61.2 percent shooting from the field and 10
-double-doubles on the season.
Following her debut season, Coates averaged 11.1 points per game to help South Carolina to a 34-3 record and the NCAA Final Four as a sophomore in 2014-15.
The native of Irmo, South Carolina, attributes her improved ability on the basketball court to her state of mind.
“I think mental toughness definitely is the most important,” Coates said. “Of course you have to have the skill set but you have to be able to mentally get through it.”
While at training camp for the Pan American Games, Coates is depending upon her that strength.
“You are going to get tired. The altitude is different, plus if you are not from areas like that,” Coates explained. “Coming from South Carolina, it is always hard to breathe, but I find a way to get through it. You will struggle, but you have to find a way to get th
orough it. I mentally prepared myself before coming out, and I have to mentally prepare myself during. I have to say, "Okay you are going to get tired. We are going to run, but you have to get through it."
According to Coates, this ability to push through is one of the many things she has earned from her head coach at South Carolina, three-time Olympian Dawn Staley.
“Coach is the one that really instilled this mental toughness in my head, especially for me as a freshman when I didn't have a great process.
“Coach Dawn would say her story, whether it was one-on-one or with the team. I wanted to be an Olympian since I was a little girl, just from hearing her stories, the good and the bad. I wanted to go through that process. I want to have my country’s national anthem playing while wearing a gold medal around my neck.”
Staley, who is the head coach for the 2015 USA Basketball Women’s U19 National Team, also was at trials, as were South Carolina teammates A’ja Wilson and Tiffany Mitchell, which Coates was grateful for.
“It means a lot because I tend to be a bashful person, surprisingly I wasn't when I was out here,” said Coates. “Having coach and A’ja as support and to have Tiff out there with me because she knows when I get in my lows, when I need help, it was nice having them around. With Coach and A’ja having their energy around, and with Tiff physical around, it really helped me out. It really made the whole process better. That first day-and-a-half, I really struggled, but she helped me out. They would talk to me. They helped me out.”
Along with teammate Mitchell, Coates bought the attitude of the Gamecock gym to training camp.
“With coach, everything is go hard. The only think that we don't go hard in is water break. It is in our nature to go hard. We don't take anyone lightly. She put it in our minds that it does not matter who is on the floor, we have to go hard. That was the little voice in my head for trials. You are here competing with the best in the nation, you have to go out here and do your thing to stand out amongst the best. You need to compete. You need to put it all out there, put your heart on the floor.”
With a new state of mind and play, Coates is enthusiastic about the 2015 Pan American Games.
“I am excited, but it still has not fully hit me yet. I am here. We are practice, but I don't think it will hit me until we are in Canada.”
The team departs on June 8 for the 2015 Pan American Games women’s basketball competition in Toronto, Canada, and its first game is on July 16 against Brazil. Follow Coates and the U.S. team on Twitter at #USABwpag.