Janelle Bailey Looks To Capitalize On USA Basketball Opportunity
A three-time North Carolina 3A state champion at Providence Day (N.C.), 6-foot-3 Janelle Bailey (Matthews, N.C.) arrived at trials for the 2016 USA Basketball Women’s U17 World Championship Team with an understanding of what it would take to be one of 12 players chosen from 139 hopefuls to represent the USA at the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship.
Not being selected to a USA Basketball team can do that for a player.
“I made it to the second-to-last round,” Bailey said of last year’s trials for the 2015 USA U16 National Team. “Getting cut, obviously, it hurt a lot. Then making the team this year, I think that experience helped me. It showed me what I needed to work on.
“Sometimes you have people in your life that tell you, ‘You need to work on this, you need to do that. So and so is doing this, and you need to do it, too.’ But to hear it from such a strong organization like this, it meant a lot. Last year, the evaluation was basically on my footwork and agility. So, I credit my strength and conditioning coach at my school and my trainer outside of school working with me to get my speed, agility and strength better for when I came back.”
She also went home and averaged 16.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks per game to help her Providence Day to a 27-2 record and a third state title.
“It was a good year,” Bailey said. “We were ranked in the country. I think we went from 16 to 18 in the USA Today rankings and almost made it to the Dick’s National Championship. We were 27-2, that was the least losses we had in like eight or 10 years, which was pretty crazy. Part of it was because that was a second-year team. Seven of our players returned, and we only had one senior leave. I knew that we would be great and go and try to get another state title, but with all of the accolades that we got, having someone on the team that was a Gatorade State Player of the Year, it was a really good year.”
While she was focused on improving her footwork and speed, Bailey also was challenged by her coach to take on greater team responsibilities.
“(Coach) told me, you have to score the ball, and to facilitate as well, because I draw so much attention. But also to be a leader.”
Bailey attends the same high school and played with 2011 USA Basketball U16 gold medalist Jatarie White, who she credits for showing her what a team leader looks like.
“Playing with somebody like Jatarie White, I think that helped me. She is vocal during practice and during the game, stepping up and being a good communicator. Coach wanted me to step into that role and be a vocal leader. Sometimes things are going to get rough, and people are going to start getting down on themselves, so I try to encourage them.”
White also had advice for Bailey about playing for USA Basketball.
“First thing she said was, ‘Go run, make sure you run,’” Bailey said. “But she said it’s a great experience and something she is going to remember whether she played on the Women’s National Team or the U16 team. She said it is something she will definitely remember and no matter how far you go, it’s a great experience.”
In the midst of USA training camp and three days away from departing for Europe, Bailey says it has in fact been a great experience for her, and it also has challenged her.
“It’s definitely fun. I think it’s fun to play against that best players from all around the country and to go up against them.
“It’s tough competition, so you have to be at your best. You have to do things out of the box, but at the same time remember who you are. I think this is a great environment for that.”
Becoming one of the best players age 17 or younger is not easy, and Bailey says she has several people who help keep her motivated.
“Working out all the time with my trainer outside of school, and my assistant coach, coach DJ at Providence Day, that definitely keeps me motivated. At home, my dad. He constantly talks to me and tries to encourage me. Especially when I’m down, and I feel like something didn’t go right, whether it was a game or some accolade or something I felt like I deserved, he always keeps me up and says there is still plenty of time left and still a lot of basketball to play.”
And then there is her older sister, Gisele Bailey (21), whom she followed on to the basketball court when she first started playing basketball at five years old.
“Unfortunately, she doesn’t play anymore,” Bailey explained. “She had four surgeries, two on her knee and two on her hip. But, I think that is something to admire. Even when she missed playing during her junior year of high school, she came back and played her senior year. I think that is something I have to look up to. Every day, I have to know that while I’m out here playing basketball, someone wishes they could. As hard as some days get, as mad as I get or as frustrated as I get, I know that there is someone else who wishes they could be out here, but unfortunately, they can’t. So, I think that is something I always keep in my mind about my sister.”
Bailey, who will travel with the team to Anglet, France, for an exhibition game and Zaragoza, Spain, for the FIBA U17 World Championship, hopes basketball will again take her abroad, but not until after a successful college career.
“I want to go to a great college that is both a mix of great academics and basketball. Play in a good atmosphere, I think that is the ultimate goal. For me long term for basketball, I want to play overseas, I definitely know that.
“I love to travel. Just with basketball, there are opportunities to open up.”
During training camp, Bailey said all she can focus on is the present.
“I’m looking forward to playing in the U17 World Championship, but I guess I just try and stay in the moment right now. It is something that is training my mind more than anything,” Bailey said of the team’s practices. “Although, (coach) says not to think too much while we are scrimmaging, I think it is training my mind. It is more mental than anything else, like when you get tired and your legs are gone. I think it has taught me a lot. It has expanded my IQ about the game of basketball.”
With her thoughts on the team’s preparations, Baily admits she hasn’t yet imagined what it will be like to take the floor wearing a USA Basketball jersey in her first international game.
“I was saying to my teammates earlier today, it has hit me that I’m on the team, but not exactly yet what It means to play for USA Basketball,” she explained. “I guess when I get in front of a crowd, it will hit me that I’m representing my country.”