USA Women's U16 National Team Takes Off For Argentina
Ten days after the start of the 2017 USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team Trials, the official 12-player team is ready to take off.
The previous four FIBA Americas U16 Championship, dating back to 2009, all took place in Mexico, but the destination this time around is Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“Let’s get on that plane already,” joked Vanessa Nygaard, assistant coach of 2017 USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team and head coach of Windward School in Los Angeles, California.
Nygaard then practiced her Spanish speaking skills, to the laughter of USA U16 head coach Carla Berube of Tufts University and assistant coach Steve Gomez of Lubbock Christian University.
The light-hearted exchange was a brief break from the busy 10 days it was for Berube, Nygaard and Gomez. With 133 athletes at trials on May 25 to the 12-member roster on May 30, building a team has been a task worth appreciating.
“What’s kind of amazing is we started with this huge group, and we have 12 fantastic basketball players and kids here,” said Nygaard.
“When you sub one in, all of a sudden you’re like ‘Oh, she’s great!’ Then another and ‘Oh, she’s great!’ I think one to 12, we have a deep, talented roster. They represent all of the United States, and it’s so exciting to see all these kids come together, to be so young and so talented.”
The team took the court only an hour after the roster was finalized on May 30, and has held nine practice sessions in preparation for Argentina.
Building relationships with her teammates has been the focal point this week for 5-foot-11 guard Paige Bueckers (Hopkins H.S./Eden Prairie, Minn.).
“That’s what was so hard, because when we started, there were so many of us,” said Bueckers. “But since Wednesday, once we got our team, it’s been really good to get know everyone.
“We’re coming together as a team, and we’re working well with each other now. I think we do well in the offense that we’ve been taught, and we’re bringing it all together.”
The team set aside time on June 2 for team photos, offering the first opportunity for players to put on the USA uniform.
Bueckers, though, says reality won’t set in until they are in the air en route to Buenos Aires.
“I think it will happen once we actually get on the plane,” she noted. “I’m pretty nervous and excited all at the same time.”
The script isn’t as similar for Jordan Horston (Columbus Africentric Early College/Columbus, Ohio), which is surprising considering she’s set to depart the country for the first time.
“I’m actually not nervous. I like flying now,” said Horston, a 6-foot guard. “When did we come here, last Wednesday? That was my first time flying on a plane. I loved it.”
In general, the past 10 days have been a whirlwind for Horston, who feels she’s learned as much about herself, as she has with the team.
“I feel like I’ve become mentally tougher,” she explained.
“I think it’s that way for all of us. There are times when you are so exhausted and your legs are hurting, but you just keep fighting through it. You try to do the little things. You stay positive, and you try to keep your energy high.”
The energy and enthusiasm Horston speaks of is reflected by Nygaard and the rest of the USA coaching staff.
“I think we’ve been giving them good challenges to prepare them,” said Nygaard. “It’s just been a whole lot of fun, and I think we’ve made some tremendous improvements as a team.”
“We are very athletic, and we can get up and down the court. I think that’s a priority for us. We are a defensive-minded team, too. Using our athleticism to create challenges for other teams to score is also going to be a priority for us.”
With the 10-hour flight to Buenos Aires, the hope is for the players and staff to get some rest. And, maybe, brush up on their Spanish.
But, for the flight back, the hope is to have a gold medal around each person’s neck.
The USA opens 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship preliminary round play on Wednesday, June 7, against Colombia before taking on Mexico on June 8, and concluding Group B competition on June 9 against Puerto Rico.
Following the preliminary round, the teams will be seeded, and the top two finishing nations from each group will advance to the semifinals on June 10. The gold and bronze medal games will be played on June 11.