World Cup Veterans Ready To Guide USA Women’s U19 Team
There is a reason training camp started two weeks before their first game.
The USA Basketball Women’s U19 World Cup Team doesn’t play its 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup opener against Mali until July 22, in Udine, Italy, but the 12-member team has returned to the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for the first time since May 21 in preparation for the competition.
The FIBA U19 World Cup is largely considered the top youth, global competition of its form as it pits 16 of the world’s best basketball nations against one another. In addition to Mali, the USA will also play China and host nation Italy in Group A preliminary round play.
While this year’s USA squad features a combination of international and collegiate experience with some youth, too, only three players on the team have played with USA Basketball at a World Cup.
University of Connecticut guard Crystal Dangerfield (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), who has a pair of gold medals from her time with the 2015 USA U19 World Cup Team and the 2013 USA U16 National Team, will undoubtedly be looked to as a leader.
“The competition level is different from the regional tournament, for sure,” said Dangerfield, who averaged 6.1 points and 3.1 assists in 24 minutes per game for the 36-1 Huskies in 2016-17.
“I think the competition just gets better with the age. Experience does make a difference. There are only a few of us that have gone through this before, so just being able to gel as a team within a couple weeks and know that we are going to have to go out there and fight for it, it’s really important.”
Dangerfield’s two gold medals are the most by any athlete on the team. She was named to the 2016 USA U18 National Team this past summer, but was forced to withdraw due to injury. Now back in a jersey with USA across the chest, she’s ready to create more memories in the red, white and blue.
“I remember our last game, playing Russia (in the 2015 FIBA U19 World Cup) for gold on their floor, and I just remember us warming up and seeing their soldiers lined up, sitting in the far end stands,” she said.
“The whole gym was cheering against us. Being able to beat the host team on their floor with everybody against you is pretty cool, and we have the chance to do that again, so it’s exciting.”
Dangerfield is joined by University of Texas rising sophomore Joyner Holmes (Cedar Hill, Texas) and Christyn Williams (Central Arkansas Christian School/Little Rock, Ark.) as those with World Cup level experience.
Holmes was a key component to the gold medal-winning 2014 USA U17 World Cup Team that finished with a 7-0 record in Pilsen, Czech Republic. She came off the bench and averaged a team fourth-best 10.6 ppg. and a team third-best 5.7 rpg.
That competition marked Holmes’ first time traveling outside the country, and it’s one she will never forget.
“I still vividly remember our final game against Spain,” Holmes said. “It came down to the wire, and we pulled it out, but they had some really, really good players on that team. Seeing that competition and those girls, and knowing we all work just as hard to be on this same level, it’s really a cool experience.”
After averaging 12.1 ppg. and 8.2 rpg. for the Longhorns this past season, she was named the Big 12 Conference Freshman of the Year in 2016-17. Those 34 collegiate games, she thinks, will pay dividends in this competition.
“A lot of the girls that we play with and against, we have that extra year under our belts in college,” she said. “We just have more experience as players going into this. And even then, we know we might be playing girls with even more experience than us, so it is an experience factor in terms of girls who have been there, done that, knowing the competition level and what to expect.”
And while her return to USA Basketball may be overdue, Holmes is eager to step into a committed role in the USA lineup. On the other side is Williams, who is the youngest member of this year’s team at 17 years old.
Take nothing away from Williams, though, as she is as battle-tested as they come on the international level. Williams most recently won a gold medal with the USA Basketball Women’s 3x3 U18 World Cup Team just last weekend in Chengdu, China. Regardless of the event, it was some sweet redemption for Williams after she settled for bronze with the 2016 USA U17 World Cup Team in Zaragoza, Spain.
Williams averaged a team second-best 11.9 ppg. and 4.0 rpg. for the USA U17s last past summer. The bronze still stings – she called it “heartbreaking” – and even though she may be looking up to her peers for some advice, she’s more than ready to get to work in this run for her second gold of the summer.
“Your team and your relationships are very important, because you’re battling together as a unit,” Williams said. “We have to build that chemistry in this short amount of time. Team ball is very important to winning these competitions, I think.”
When asked about what she can tell her older teammates about the World Cup competition, her youthfulness didn’t show.
“You have to keep your composure no matter the circumstances,” she added. “You have your ups and downs, but if you can keep it together, it will all be fine. That goes with everything in regards to a team. We are sisters and we have to do this together.”
The team’s most internationally seasoned athlete, Dangerfield, mimicked her words.
“Whether things are going well during a stretch or not, you have to be able to figure it out.”
The USA U19s will continue with two daily practices at the USOTC through Friday, July 14, before departing for Italy and a three-game exhibition tournament against Italy, Latvia and Spain, July 17-19.