USA U17 Women Set to Tip-Off U17 World Cup Play
Twenty-four practices, three exhibition victories and one scrimmage victory spread across four cities and three countries in just 16 days. That’s a lot to fit into a short amount of time, but the 2018 USA Basketball Women’s U17 World Cup Team has utilized every bit of it to grow as a team and improve as a whole.
The 12 athletes and three coaches have spent time together on and off the court, melding into cohesive unit that hopes to claim the USA’s third U17 gold medal in the fourth edition of the event. And, after its June 20 evening practice session, the USA squad has completed its preparations and is ready to tip-off play in the FIBA U17 World Cup against Italy (8:15 EDT) on July 21 in Minsk, Belarus. All three of the USA’s preliminary round games will be streamed live online at on YouTube.com/FIBA.
“I’m very excited,” said USA U17 and Tufts University head coach Carla Berube, who coached the 2017 USA U16 National Team to a gold medal, which earned the USA its berth into the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup. “The team is really looking forward to tipping off here in Belarus. We’ve put a lot of work in the last two weeks in Colorado, Washington, D.C., in Latvia and now here. All 12 of them have really come together and worked really hard. So, I think we are prepared.”
“I can safely say, and speak for the whole team when I say this, we’re excited to get ready, get out there and play in the actual World Cup,” said Fran Belibi (Regis Jesuit H.S./Centennial, Colo.), who celebrates her birthday today. “It’s been a long time coming, from try-outs to our month-long break, and then coming back here and going from country to country and playing, but not actually playing. I think we’re all really excited to get on the court and play someone new.”
After capturing the Latvia U17 International Invitational title with victories over Canada (87-56), China (106-48) and Latvia (103-38) July 14-16, the USA collected a scrimmage win against Australia (76-54) on July 18 and worked on situational drills with France on July 18.
“Those games helped us improve a lot,” said Aliyah Boston (Worcester Academy/St. Thomas, USVI), who was named MVP of the Latvia tournament. “We’ve gotten to know each other better, especially when we’re running through the plays. We kind of have a feel for where everyone is and what everyone’s specialty is. We’ve practiced a lot, and we’ve worked hard playing against each other and against other teams. So, I’m excited to start playing tomorrow.”
All-in-all, everyone is ready for the games to officially begin. That’s not to say the team won’t continue to improve throughout the tournament, however.
“I’ve seen a lot of growth, both on the court and off,” said Berube. “They’ve really come together, and they’re developing a good chemistry. We’ll continue working on that as we progress in Belarus. But, it’s great to see how well they’re playing together, how well they share the ball. The growth on the defensive end is something I always look forward to seeing. And, I’m looking forward to watching it live tomorrow on the big stage.”
Playing in preliminary round Group B, the U.S. squad’s first opponent is Italy (8:15 a.m. EDT) – bronze medalists from the 2017 European U16 Championship and competing in its fourth U17 women’s tournament. Italy finished with the silver medal at the 2016 FIBA U17 World Cup, its lone U17 medal, and owns a 13-9 slate overall in U17 play.
“We watched them from what they did last year,” added Berube when asked about her team’s first opponent. “They’ve got some really strong players. They play very well together and have some really skilled players who can score the ball, but they’re also tough on the defensive end as well. So, it’s going to be a great first test for us.”
Next up will be Mali on July 22 (8:30 a.m. EDT), and the USA caps preliminary play with a clash against China on July 24 (11:15 a.m. EDT). Once those three games are over, the knockout round begins. Winners continue to advance to the July 29 gold medal game, while the remainder of the field will play out for fifth through 16th places.
“It’s been a very long time,” added Belibi. “I can’t remember the days anymore. Overall, I’m just ready to play.”
Boston is confident in her team, which she says has improved since last summer’s U16 squad captured gold. “As a team, everyone got better. We all improved on our skill and it’s fun to play with each other.”
She and the rest of her teammates hope that all the hard work transforms into gold on June 29.
Follow the USA U17 Women online at: usab.com/womens/u17/news.