Stakes Rise As Women's U23 Training Camp Begins
It’s not just about throwing your name back in the hat. If it were, everybody would be in Colorado Springs, Colorado, this week for the 2017 USA Basketball Women’s U23 National Team training camp. It is about showing up ready to compete against 35 of the nation’s best college-age players.
If USA’s U23 National Team sounds unfamiliar, that’s because it should. The U23 team will play in the inaugural U24 Four Nations Tournament Aug. 12-15 in Tokyo, Japan, alongside the likes of Australia, Canada and Japan, in a round-robin tournament.
As with any international competition, the Four Nations Tournament provides an opportunity to develop the pipeline and help prepare athletes for possible future participation with USA Basketball.
“Anytime you have the opportunity to play international competition, it’s always good,” said University of Connecticut head coach and USA U23 lead clinician Geno Auriemma.
“If you have a certain group of players that are maybe one or two steps away from being considered for the national team, and they get the opportunity to be part of a trip to see what it’s really like to travel with that kind of team, to play with that kind of team against that level of competition – I think all those things are good, especially for the players to experience. And, it’s good for USA Basketball to evaluate, to take some notes and to help those players they think can grow into those national team players.”
Training camp, which runs through Aug. 4 when the 12-member team is expected to be announced, began with an orientation and the first training session on Monday. The week is set to be highlighted with some unusual aspects, including its own four-team tournament at the United States Olympic Training Center. The bronze and gold medal games of the tournament on Aug. 4 will be streamed at 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. (MDT) live on USAB.com.
“We are trying to identify, not just those players that will make this team and travel to Tokyo, but also look at some of those players that aren’t going to be picked, because you don’t know, down the road they could grow into those players,” added Auriemma, who served as the USA Basketball Women’s National Team head coach from 2009-16 and led USA national teams to 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medals and 2010 and 2014 FIBA World Cup titles.
“We are going to be able to work with them in certain skill situations and also talk to them about things that are really important and they should be aware of going forward philosophically and playing-wise. And, they also get a chance to compete, which you don’t normally get here in Colorado Springs. This allows us to throw a bunch of players together and in a short time, you see who plays well, who meshes with others and who struggles to be part of a team.”
The 36 players include athletes from 22 college campuses across the country. Sixteen athletes are expected to graduate in 2018, 14 in 2019, four in 2020 and just two in 2021. A total of 20 athletes are gold medalists with USA Basketball, and 30 of them took home end-of-the-year conference honors this past season in college.
Simply said, there is no shortage of talent, and that’s the way it is supposed to be. However new the U23 event is, there is a serious desire to succeed for everyone involved.
When USA Women’s National Team Director Carol Callan arrived to the USOTC from Udine, Italy, only about 24 hours after the USA Women’s U19 World Cup Team suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the gold medal game of the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup, just how important this week is to USA Basketball became even more evident.
Her address to the 36 athletes began as expected after a silver medal.
“I’m riled up. Do you know why?” she asked, only to be answered by some nods and a few quiet answers.
It’s never too early to prepare for the future, especially an Olympic future, is the thought. That alone is exciting for the 36 athletes to hear, and Callan told them that is not far out of reach.
“I’m not saying you are going to be an Olympian. But, I’m not here to say you won’t be, either,” Auriemma added, ahead of the first training camp session.
Is it too tall of an order? There’s no saying, yet. One thing is for certain, and it’s that the USA U23 National Team training camp is an opportunity to get better. That should not be taken lightly.