Jeff Walz, Courtney Banghart And Michelle Clark-Heard To Lead 2017 USA Basketball Women’s U23 National Team
USA Basketball will take part in an inaugural U23 Four Nations Tournament for college-aged women this summer in Japan, and selected to lead the 2017 USA Basketball Women’s U23 National Team were Jeff Walz of the University of Louisville as head coach, with Courtney Banghart of Princeton University and Michelle Clark-Heard of Western Kentucky University as assistant coaches. The USA Basketball Women’s Junior National Team Committee is responsible for selecting the coaching staff, which was approved by the USA Basketball Board of Directors.
The 2017 U23 Four Nations Tournament, which will include the USA, Australia, Canada and Japan, will be a round-robin tournament played Aug. 12-15 in Tokyo (arena TBA). Athletes eligible for this team must be U.S. citizens who are 23 years old or younger and currently are freshmen, sophomores or juniors in college.
Training camp to select the 12-member U.S. roster will be August July 31-Aug. 4 at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Players selected to the team will continue training at the USOTC through Aug. 7 before departing for Tokyo.
“USA Basketball is always looking for the best and brightest to lead our pool of young athletes. Coaches that have the ability to push these women to play at the highest level, give themselves over to the team concept and embody all that USA Basketball has stood for during their historic run of six consecutive Olympic gold medals,” said Jennifer Rizzotti, chair of the USA Basketball Women’s Junior National Team Committee and head coach at George Washington University. “We are looking for coaches to lead the next generation and Jeff, Courtney and Michelle are three of the most successful and well-respected coaches in our business. We are happy to entrust our group of U23 athletes to this well-deserving trio.”
Although 2017 will be the first time Walz will serve as a USA Basketball head coach, he previously has helped lead USA Basketball to gold medals as an assistant coach for the 2014 USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team and the 2015 USA Basketball Women’s U19 World Championship Team.
In 2016-17, Walz completed his 10th season (2007-08 to present) as the Louisville head coach, where he lists at the program’s all-time winningest coach with a 263-93 (.739 winning percentage) record.
“I am beyond thankful for the honor to work with USA Basketball again,” Walz said. “I had amazing experiences the past two summers as an assistant coach. Professionally, it’s something I dreamed of doing, and it became a reality. Now, to be asked to be a head coach and work with these student-athletes, is incredibly humbling. USA Basketball possesses impeccable standards and a winning tradition, and I am excited for the opportunity and eager to be entrusted with such an important role.
“I was fortunate to have worked with Michelle (Clark-Heard) when she was on staff at Louisville,” Walz added. “She is a terrific coach, has a great understanding of the game and an unmatchable work ethic, and I’m excited to coach with her again. I’m looking forward to working with Courtney (Banghart) and getting to know her better. I’ve been very impressed with what she has done throughout her career. The teams that she has put on the court always are very well-coached and play extremely hard.”
In 10 seasons at the helm of the Louisville Cardinals, Walz has led the program to seven NCAA Sweet 16s, including two Elite Eights and two appearances in the national championship game (2009 and 2013). Nine times he has led Louisville to at least 20 wins in a season, and twice his squad has tallied at least 30 victories.
The 2016-17 season saw the Cardinals compile a 29-8 record and make an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearance.
Walz also spent 11 seasons as an assistant coach at four different universities, including Western Kentucky (1996-97), Nebraska (1997-98 to 2000-01), Minnesota (2001-02) and Maryland (2002-03 to 2006-07). As an assistant, Walz helped lead teams to the NCAA Tournament nine times, and in 2005-06 he was part of Maryland’s NCAA championship team.
Banghart’s appointment as an assistant coach for the 2017 USA U23 team will mark her first USA Basketball coaching assignment.
She recently completed her 10th season at the helm of the Princeton Tigers (2007-08 to present), where she owns an overall record of 208-87 (.705).
“What a tremendous honor it is to serve USA basketball in a coaching capacity,” Banghart said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to coach the sport at the highest level and to do so while representing our country. I’m eager and ready to give USA basketball and all associated with it, my very best.”
In 2016-17, she led Princeton to a 16-14 campaign that included appearances in the Ivy League tournament championship and the WNIT, which was an eighth-straight appearance in postseason play for the program.
Named the 2015 Naismith National Coach of the Year and included as one of Fortune Magazine’s 50 Greatest Leaders, Banghart is the winningest coach in program history. She has guided the Tigers to at least 20 wins in seven of the past eight seasons.
Banghart played four seasons at Dartmouth College (1996-97 through 1999-00) and returned to her alma mater where she served as an assistant coach from 2003-07. As an assistant coach at Dartmouth, she helped guide Dartmouth to two Ivy League Championships and NCAA appearances in 2005 and 2006.
Clark-Heard will undertake her second coaching assignment with USA Basketball. In 2015, she helped USA Basketball to a silver medal as an assistant coach for the U.S. Pan American Games Women’s Basketball Team.
She recently completed her fifth season (2012-13 to present) as head coach at her alma mater Western Kentucky, where she has compiled a 130-39 record (.769).
“When I received the phone call, I was just so honored and very humbled,” said Clark-Heard. “I’m excited to be a part of USA Basketball again. The experience that I had last time [at the 2015 Pan American Games], I’m looking forward to being a part of that again, being around some amazing coaches and getting to learn more from them will be a great opportunity.”
This past season in 2016-17, Clark-Heard led WKU to a 27-7 record, a Conference USA regular season title and tournament championship and an NCAA Tournament appearance.
She also owns two seasons of experience as a Division II head coach at Kentucky State University and a combined total of 12 seasons as assistant coach at Louisville, where she was an assistant to Walz, as well as at the University of Cincinnati and the University of Nebraska.
Clark-Heard was a four-year letter winner at Western Kentucky (1987-90) and was part of four NCAA Tournament teams, two Sun Belt Conference Tournament championships (1988, 1989) and two conference regular-season titles (1989, 1990).
2017 U23 Four Nations Tournament
The 2017 U23 Four Nations Tournament will include top national teams around the world, including the USA, Australia, Canada and Japan, and will provide meaningful competition and development opportunities. The USA participation in the tournament is intended to help further develop the USA Basketball athlete pipeline and to help prepare athletes for possible future participation in the USA Basketball Women’s National Team pool.
During training camp, an emphasis will be on skill development by position and understanding the culture of success that is an important aspect of playing for the USA Basketball Women’s National Team.