USA Basketball Women’s U16 Trials Offer Golden Opportunity
Throughout each year, the members of the USA Basketball Women’s Developmental National Team Committee and the USA Basketball Women’s National Team staff members work to identify which athletes to invite to trials for the upcoming summer’s national team.
This year, that meant searching for the top players eligible for the 2017 USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team that will compete in the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship. Based on FIBA’s age requirements, participants in the competition must have been born on or after Jan. 1, 2001.
Inherent in identifying the top layer of talent is that it limits the number of athletes USA Basketball has the opportunity to impact. There also is the difficulty of evaluating each and every player.
The solution for USA Basketball was to invite 35 players, as it usually does for national team trials, but also to open up trials to athletes who apply to attend.
“The committee’s goal is to select a 12-member team that will have the best chance to win a gold medal at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship,” said Carol Callan, USA Basketball Women’s National Team director and chair of the USA Basketball Women’s Developmental National Team Committee. “And, we feel it is important to allow any athlete, as much as possible, to have a chance to show what she can do. At this age, there are many athletes who can play the game who may not have had the opportunity to play against athletes from other areas of the country. So, we invite a certain amount based on input from a variety of sources and then allow athletes to apply, so we have a broad group from which to select.”
The benefit of USA Basketball reaching more players is a deeper pipeline of athletes who have been exposed to the values of USA Basketball’s Women’s National Team program and to USA Basketball coaches.
But with 136 players competing for 12 roster spots, which equates to about one-in-12 hopefuls making the team, USA Basketball also wanted to provide benefits to the 129 young women who will not make the team. One way in which to do that is to lengthen the traditional trials span and to add more instruction, including off-court learning for every player before scrimmaging even begins. Those sessions are known as skills sessions.
“The U16/U17 teams are the entry level for our athlete pipeline,” Callan explained. “It is a good time to teach athletes individual skills they can polish on their own and small-group strategies to use in informal 2-on-2 and 3x3 settings. Plus, since most of the athletes have paid their way to attend, we like to give them something to take away from the weekend – skills and ideas for becoming a better player that they can work on by themselves.”
In the five previous open trials events, including the 2011, 2013, 2015 U16 trials and the 2014 and 2016 U17 trials, applicant athletes have been named to a national team roster in three of those years, including seven athletes overall.
In 2013, Sabrina Ionescu and Taylor Murray became the first applicant athletes to be named to a 12-member when they were selected for the 2013 USA U16 National Team. In 2015, Jayda Adams and Lauryn Miller were applicant athletes named to the 2015 USA Women’s U16 National Team. And this past year, applicant athletes at the 2016 USA U17 World Championship Team Trials Janelle Bailey, Taylor Mikesell and Abby Prohaska made the roster for the 2016 USA U17 World Championship Team.
“Throughout the trials, the committee focuses on an athlete’s number, not their name,” Callan emphasized. “So, many times we don’t know who was invited and who applied during the scrimmages. When we pick the finalists and then the 12-member team, we are happy for each of the athletes. When an applicant athlete makes the team, which has happened several times, our system is validated.”
Interestingly, returning for the May 25-29 trials for the 2017 USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team is Aliyah Boston (Worcester Academy/Worcester, Mass), who attended last year as an applicant athlete and was named as one of 18 finalists for the team, falling just short of making the roster. For her, the 2016 experience felt like an honor, “especially because I was the youngest finalist of the trials,” she said.
“It was a very exciting experience, and I thank God that he gave me that opportunity,” Boston said. “My mindset was that I was going to work hard and earn a spot on the team.
“It was not that hard (being an applicant athlete), because I was not trying to do things that I have never done before,” Boston added. “And, even though I was playing against some extremely talented young ladies, I believe that I was mentally prepared to overcome any challenge that I met.”
Though she went home when the team was announced, she did not go home empty-handed.
“I learned that I still had a lot of developing and growing to be the best player that I could be,” she explained. “It did make me better, because not making the team propelled me to a new level of thinking and inspired me to work on my game even more and helped me to notice what my strengths and weaknesses are.”
Her performance last year also earned her an invitation to this year’s USA U16 National Team Trials, where she will be one of 148 hopefuls.
“It was very exciting that I was invited, and it means that I have improved my game and that the coaches saw something in me last year, and they think that I can bring something to the team this year,” said Boston. “My expectations for this year are to work hard and make the 12-man roster and to be able to represent my country and team in Argentina.”