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A'ja Wilson, Napheesa Collier

USA Coaching Staff Ups The Pace, All-Americans Embrace The National Team Experience

  • Author:
    Sean White
  • Date:
    Oct 2, 2017

Teachers of the Game
With such an extensive history that includes six consecutive Olympic gold medals along with golden finishes in both the 2010 and 2014 FIBA World Cups, it’s easy to presume that talent alone is what has led the USA Basketball Women’s National Team to dominate international basketball.

But on a roster featuring 17 of the nation’s best players from both the WNBA and collegiate ranks, it takes more than talent alone to mold a successful team and ensure that thr team is properly prepared to contend for titles at the 2018 FIBA World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Day two of the USA National Team’s training camp served as a reminder as to how vital the USA coaching is. 

“You know what these players bring to the table as far as their athleticism and their ability to play the game at a high level,” head coach Dawn Staley said. “But as a coach, you want to see them take instructions and execute. You want to know that players can go out there and be disciplined. Naturally, they can be effective in pretty much anything you put them in, but you want them to be effective in the things that you’re asking them to do at the specific moment.”

The intensity of Sunday’s practice was at a high level as Staley led the instruction of 5-on-5 ‘seven possession’ game, situation drills and full-court scrimmages, while giving less of a focus to skill positions as players helped bring the best out of one another competitively.

“I’m a feeler as a coach,” Staley said. “Obviously we have a practice plan, but when you come in here and you feel the energy of the players, you want to ride that wave. We felt it. We felt that they came in really focused, wanting to compete and do a little more competition 5-on-5 [rather than us] breaking down doing drills. The drills we had broken down were executed in the 5-on-5 so we just cut it out and just capitalized on the energy they provided.”

Putting pen to clipboard on the sideline were court coaches Jennifer Rizzotti (George Washington University), Sue Semrau (Florida State University), and Jeff Walz (University of Louisville), and each had a chance to coach for either USA ‘Red’ or ‘White’ jersey squad of players that took the court. An emphasis on play calling and the ‘x’s and o’s’ aspect of the game was on full display by each coach.

The strategic approach to Sunday’s practice helped provide some insight into the type of system Staley will instill, which entails a quick pace with frequent ball movement in order to avoid clogging the paint down low.

Taking the first victory in a 10-minute scrimmage was the ‘USA Red Team’ with a 30-20 win, led by the coaching of Rizzotti. In a shorter, five-minute rematch scrimmage, coach Semrau and the ‘USA White Team’ managed to rebound for a 12-7 win.

The trading of baskets, playing of intense defense, and drawing up and coordination of plays perfectly complemented the exuberant atmosphere that Staley identified.  

“I’m a point guard. So I know the pulse of teams,” the USA head coach explained. “Having played the position for a long time, you get a really good feel for the game. Part of it is listening, listening to players. I’m not out there defending a ball screen, they’re out there; they know what feels good to them and we’re going to play off that. In some instances when we’re playing games, if I see something and we need to change what’s comfortable for them, we’ll change. That’s what we tried to do today, we tried to get them to really concentrate on what we put in and be really disciplined to that particular set of directions. Obviously, they’re pros so they did a good job at listening and executing.”

The All-American Way
Benefitting most from the leadership of both a prestigious coaching staff and various veterans on the national team is the cohort of five 2017 college All-Americans in attendance at the training camp.

Consisting of stretch/combo guards Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson representing the University of Connecticut, University of Louisville guard Asia Durr, The Ohio State University forward Kelsey Mitchell and University of South Carolina forward A’ja Wilson, the group of collegiate players are making the most out of an amazing opportunity.

Actively participating in a USA Basketball National Team training camp is a dream for all basketball players and it’s now a reality for this group of five talented collegians.

“It was amazing when I got the invite. It’s kind of unbelievable thinking about how I still have two more years of college before I’m really in the pros playing against some of these people,” said Samuelson, a 6-foot-3 forward. “I was definitely was a little nervous coming into this, playing with all these great players and people that I looked up to and watched when I was younger. To be able to see Sue Bird, who is a four-time Olympian, and be able to play and practice with her is pretty cool to be a part of.”

Although each player helps lead their respective programs, the USA Basketball Women’s National Team experience goes beyond performance and highlights the collective effort that is central to the camp possessing a teaching element. 

“I think we all have to [keep in mind] that all of us have played with USA before so we kind of know the things that they expect from us. At this point, we just have to play and learn from other people and work as hard as we can,” Collier explained.

It’s a new experience, but the game remains the same.

A sharpshooter for the Buckeyes, the 5-foot-8 Mitchell showcased her shooting ability in the rematch scrimmage by faking out her defender with a hesitation dribble before knocking down a midrange jumpshot as the shot clock expired to extend the ‘USA White’ lead to 9-6 prior to sinking a pair of free throws that secured a 12-7 victory.

A member of the 2017 USA Women’s U23 National Team that captured the U24 Four Nations Tournament in Tokoyo, Japan, in August, Mitchell remained calm and collected in Sunday’s late-game situation and produced when no other option was available.
“It’s just a play at the end of the day, but it does feel kind of good to know that you can compete at a high level with these guys and be able to play against certain people,” she stated. “Especially because there’s a lot of vets at this camp. Just to be a part of it is amazing.”

While playing for the presitigous USA National Team is the main objective pursued, each All-American holds longevity in connection to USA Basketball with USA Junior National Team camp experiences in the early stages of their careers. Being able to draw on such experiences has been valuable to their progression throughout the training camp.

“I think we’re all trying to learn,” Durr said. “It really doesn’t matter what team they put you on. The vets have been doing a great job of taking us under their wing and just trying to show us the way since we’ve been here.”

Now a national champion, SEC Player of the Year and the 2017 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player as a member of coach Staley’s Gamecock’s lineup, Wilson is one of two seniors amongst the All-American crew. Despite her accolades, she remains committed to learning on a daily basis and is motivated to make the most of this opportunity.

“It’s a great honor [to participate this weekend],” she said. “I’m a senior, so I’m one of the few babies here. Just to take it all in and see the pros out here and being able to compete with them is amazing. I can’t wait to take in everything and hopefully go back home and teach some of my teammates the things I’ve learned here.”

Regardless of what takes place concerning the natIonal team’s future final roster, the opportunity for each of these collegiate All-Americans to experience such a life-changing event will certainly influence their growth both on and off the court. 

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