USA Women Set to Open Play in FIBA Americas U18 Championship
When the 2018 USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team tips-off in Mexico City against Argentina at 7:30 p.m. EDT (live on Facebook.com/USABasketball) on Wednesday, Aug. 1, USA head coach Jeff Walz (Louisville) and assistant coaches Natasha Adair (Delaware) and Cori Close (UCLA) finally will get a chance to see their team in an actual game.
Practices and scrimmages only can show you so much, and the USA has had just 10 days in which to squeeze all of its preparations.
“July 21 was our first practice,” said Close. “Since then, I’ve really seen an awareness of how individuals become a team. It isn’t about just what you bring to the table, but how you enable someone else to bring their strengths. And, that has been really fun to watch them grow in that area, because that’s what it is all about. We know we have great individual players, but how can we link together to be stronger collectively than we are individually, that’s really the trick.”
And, it is not only the coaches facing the adversity of the unknown – each of the 12 U.S. team members is competing in a new system, and they have just days to learn that new system. Whether or not they have played for a USA Basketball team before (five athletes have and seven athletes are playing in their first FIBA event) this is a different team with different coaches.
“The challenging part is that chemistry aspect – making sure we are all on the same page, and we’re all connecting,” Adair said. “But, the fun part of this, is having a coaching staff and a team with the same mindset. I think the players have come in so focused, so locked in and eager to learn. These are some of the best in the country, so the talent is there, the skill is there, and just over these last days, you can really see it all meshing and coming together.”
One of the ways to help build the team’s chemistry is to spend time together, and the players have done just that – traveling, eating and even enjoying the little bit of free time they get off the court together.
“USA Basketball has such a strong culture in that gold trumps all,” Close said. “Everybody has to apply the gold standard in everything we do – how we treat our bus driver, how we help with bags, how hard we play, our productivity, and it all links together. So, it’s been really fun to invest in that kind of culture.”
After opening up against Argentina, the USA will take on Chile at 3 p.m. EDT on Aug. 2 and then wrap up preliminary round play against Puerto Rico at 7:30 p.m. EDT on Aug. 3. Both of those games also will be available at Facebook.com/USABasketball.
Neither the coaches nor the athletes can know what to expect yet from their preliminary round opponents, although the coaches will be able to scout opponents once the games begin.
“You just have to stick to the fundamentals,” Adair said of playing unknown competition. “We are going to compete, we are going to trust one another and lean on one another, but do what you do. They all come in with their individual talent and skill sets. If we put that together and stay focused on representing the United States with hard work, with hustle, with pride, with effort and most importantly discipline, we will be fine.”
Following the preliminary round, teams will be seeded for the quarterfinals, and it will be a must-win situation for the final three games if the USA hopes to accomplish its goal of winning a gold medal.
“I’m sure, like any other team, any other player, there will be some anxiety, there will be some jitters,” Adair said. “But we are very proud of this opportunity, and they know that once they step on the floor, based on all of the work that they have put in, they will feel prepared.”
Follow along with the USA U18 national team as they battle for the USA’s ninth-straight women’s U18 gold medal at USAB.com.