Gold Is The Goal For Taylor Mikesell
For 5-foot-9 guard Taylor Mikesell (Jackson H.S./Massillon, Ohio), hearing her named called as one of 18 finalists for the 2016 USA Basketball Women’s U17 World Championship Team on May 30 marked the achievement of one goal and the beginning of the next.
Mikesell, who also participated in the 2015 USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team Trials, began the 2016 process as one of 139 hopefuls.
“Just to try my best,” said Mikesell of her focus during trials. “I made it to the final 40 last year, so to try and make it as a finalist this year.”
To make it through any of the roster reductions at a USA Basketball U16 or U17 trials is a significant accomplishment, and it was something Mikesell understood she could be proud of.
“I did feel like I was successful last year, especially since I really didn’t expect any of that,” she said. “I was just going to try and make it through the first couple of cuts. I was pretty happy with it, but, obviously, not satisfied with where I was.”
The takeaways for Mikesell were obvious.
“It definitely made me want to get better,” she said of what she learned in 2015. “Seeing all of the guards out here, some of the best guards in the country, I compared myself to them, and I needed to get a lot better.
“That I needed to be more vocal. I had to be more vocal and put myself out there a little more, be more of a leader.”
Stepping onto the court for trials in 2016, Mikesell brought with her an improved skill set.
“I changed a little bit of what I was doing, offensively. I was shooting a lot of stationary stuff, not creating any space or anything. So, I did a lot more of that with my trainer, and I did a lot more speed training.
“I do feel the difference. I don’t feel as tired during our sprints.”
Mikesell also felt a difference when she heard her name called, not only as one of 18 finalists, but as one of 12 players named to the USA team.
“It was unbelievable,” Mikesell said with a smile. “It is such an honor. I was still really nervous. When I called my dad, it was pretty cool, pretty surreal.
“I probably got a least 150 text messages saying congratulations and all that. It was awesome.”
All of that support from friends and family helped Mikesell gain perspective on the opportunity.
“It definitely does help motivate me,” she said. “I have a lot of people back home pulling for me.
“It didn’t really sink in until people kept saying, ‘You’re playing for a gold medal.’ It’s awesome. It’s really an honor.”
After the team was named on June 2, the players returned home for five days before they returned to the United States Olympic Training Center to begin practices for the first time as a team.
“I wanted to spend time with my family, because I wasn’t really going to get to see them at all,” said Mikesell of what she did during that time. “They took me out to dinner, so we celebrated a little bit. But, we have to get the gold medal, then we can celebrate for real.”
Mikesell was not the only player traveling to and from Ohio. Also named to the team this year is Mikesell’s Sports City U summer teammate Abby Prohaska (Lakota West H.S./Liberty Township, Ohio).
“I love playing with Abby,” Mikesell said. “We came out here last year and both got cut at the same time. So, it’s kind of cool that we both made it this year.
“We challenge each other on and off the court, and we are really good friends off the court.”
Just three days into a seven-day training camp, Mikesell said she is enjoying the experience and still learning about herself as an athlete and about the sport.
“It’s been really good,” Mikesell said. “It’s, obviously, pretty tiring, but it’s been good. I’m looking forward to the next few days.
“My legs are just sore. My calves are cramping more, because I haven’t been drinking enough water – little things off the court.”
As for the best parts, the cafeteria at the U.S. Olympic Training Center is high on her list, where the food is geared towards athletes.
“Besides the basketball part, probably the food. The food is amazing. All of it. It is so good.”
As for the basketball part, “Coming here and being able to play with the best players in the country.”
On June 15, Mikesell and the team will depart for a friendly game against France in Anglet, France, before arriving in Zaragoza, Spain, where the team will scrimmage Australia before opening play in the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship against South Korea on June 22.
“It’s awesome. Especially for my family, too. My parents are going get to France and Spain for the first time, too. They are really excited. I can’t wait to see another part of the world.”
For all but two players, Aquira DeCosta (St. Mary’s H.S./Stockton, Calif.) and Sedona Prince (Liberty Hill H.S./Liberty Hill, Texas) who played in the 2015 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, the international game and its rules will be a new experience. Some obvious differences from U.S. high school basketball include a 24-second shot clock, an eight-second back court count and the fact that a team is awarded two free throws after it is fouled five times in a quarter.
“I have watched a little bit (of international basketball), but I don’t really know what to expect yet,” Mikesell admitted. “When I get out there, we will all adjust. We are held to a high standard here.”
Slightly unsure or not, Mikesell if definite about her excitement level.
“It’s going to be unbelievable. It’s going to be an honor, and it’s going to be surreal.”
Moving forward, she has one, unwavering goal.
“A gold medal.”