USA U19 Newcomers Learning The Ropes Ahead Of FIBA World Cup
The call to action is simple, really – bring energy to practice or otherwise, energy is going to be willed into you.
USA U19 World Cup Team and University of Pittsburgh head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio isn’t interested in fatigue or laziness. She wants her players to compete, as do assistants Kamie Etheridge (Northern Colorado) and Charlotte Smith (Elon). The coaching trio, which guided the 2016 USA Women’s U18 National Team to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Valdivia, Chile, last summer, exerts about as much energy at practice as the players. Shouting, clapping, running – you name it, they do it.
With less than two weeks until the competition begins, time together is sparing. Preparation is crunched, but there are no shortcuts, and without a doubt, there will be effort.
“When you come to training camp, early on, there is so much teaching that happens until players grasp that feel for what your system is looking like and you continue to build on it,” said McConnell-Serio, who has four gold medals as a USA athlete, including gold from the 1988 Olympic Games and 1986 FIBA World Cup, and a bronze from the 1992 games in Barcelona, Spain.
“These girls, they have to compete at a high level on a consistent basis to make each other better, she added.
“It’s something as coaches that we expect from them and demand from them to compete on every play. I’ve always talked, as a coach, about team chemistry and how important it is as a team. But, it’s also important to have it as a staff and as a staff with the team. It is our nature and our style to try to be as enthusiastic as we can and try to bring energy, and I think the players will feed off that when you bring it to practice every single day.”
“They want to win,” said Reili Richardson (Arizona State/Brea, Calif.) of the coaching staff, each of whom won gold medals as athletes on USA Basketball teams. “They know what it takes to win and they know we have this short amount of time to prepare. They are doing what it takes to get us fired up and ready.”
Richardson is one of four athletes on the team set to make her international debut with USA Basketball. Bella Alarie (Princeton/Bethesda, Md.), Kayla Overbeck (Vanderbilt/Newbury Park, Calif.) and Alicia ‘Sug’ Sutton (Texas/St. Louis, Mo.) are the others in their first run in the country’s colors.
What was new for them during team trials May 18-21 was only a sample of what’s to come, as the team heads for Udine, Italy, for its first game of the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup versus Mali on July 22. In addition to Mali, the USA will also play China and host nation Italy in Group A preliminary round play.
Learning the international rules, playing against foreign competition and against the host nation on its own soil poses just a few challenges to the newcomers and the USA U19 team.
“This short time frame does make things difficult for what we are about to compete against,” said Sutton.
“In college and any other season, you have a couple of months to prepare, and we only have what, eight days? There is a different approach. You have to go hard every single day to push yourself, to get in shape and to get to know your teammates. The only way we can get used to playing with one another, is if we push one another every day.”
In many ways, half of the battle is over for these four players. Making the roster was the first test. Now that they have made the team, Overbeck says the pressure has been lifted. Her focus has shifted to building relationships with her teammates and simply playing basketball.
“You know, when we were at trials, we were all in that zone knowing we were all, in a way, competing against one another,” Overback said. “But, we’re here now getting to truly know one another as people and players, and we are learning the little things about each other. We all need one another on this team in order to win the gold.”
A 2017 Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team selection, Overbeck says she spent the past two months since team trials working on her conditioning and expanding her outside game. With training camp, she’s elevating her game in every facet in going up against the country’s top 19-and-unders.
“Everybody has been very helpful, especially the coaches,” Overbeck added. “They give you all the little tidbits to get better. They want to help you become the best player you can be, because they know that if they push you to be your best, you’re going to push your teammates to be their best.”
And that’s why the practices are no walk in the park.
“We have to lock in during this week that we have practices,” explained Richardson. “You have to know that every drill is for a purpose. You have to commit to what we are trying to do as a team.”
“(The coaches) having that energy, they really bring it to us, too,” said Overbeck. “They start with that energy, and it’s not always their purpose to bring it and be those people that fire us up, but they have the source.”
One thing is for certain – if the USA wants to win a seventh-consecutive FIBA U19 World Cup gold medal, there cannot be any drop-offs in effort and intensity. The coaches know that, and now the players do, too.
“We know this tournament is going to be very competitive. We’ve heard stories of other USA U19 teams,” noted Sutton.
“But that’s why we are here, practicing and getting ready. At least we have a few veterans on this team that know what they are doing, so us younger players, we can go off them a little bit to get advice.”
The USA U19s continue with daily practices at the United States Olympic Training Center through Friday, July 14, before departing for Italy and a three-game exhibition tournament against Italy, Latvia and Spain, July 17-19.