Hailey Van Lith Leads USA Basketball Gold Medal Hunt at Youth Olympic Games
The young point guard from Washington is reveling in 3x3 play and the experiences it brings.
Hailey Van Lith’s ascendance in the world of basketball is almost stunning for a 16-year-old.
Van Lith, from Cashmere, Washington, is running the point for the USA Basketball Women’s 3x3 Team at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which is being held Oct. 6-18.
In winning MVP honors at the 2018 USA Basketball Women’s 3x3 U18 National Championship, Van Lith scored four of Team Quest’s last five points while leading her squad to a 21-18 win in the finals. Team Quest finished 7-0.
Now, she’s in Argentina, along with Team Quest teammates Aliyah Boston, Samantha Brunelle and Paige Bueckers, representing Team USA and helping them defend the Youth Olympic gold medal won in Singapore in 2014 after earning bronze in the inaugural Games in Nanjing, China, in 2010.
Van Lith described the opportunity to play in the Games as “mind blowing.”
“I can’t believe I’m saying the word ‘Olympic,’” she said. “I am so lucky they wanted me on the team. It’s crazy with the amount of girls in the pool.”
Standing out is nothing new for Van Lith, a 2017 adidas All-American who is a two-sport star in high school, playing both basketball and softball.
A center fielder and shortstop in softball, the rising junior at Cashmere High School already has been offered Division I scholarships to play both sports, but says she’s committed to basketball and hasn’t whittled down her top eight schools as of yet.
Van Lith made a name for herself with USA Basketball in July when she helped the USA U17 national team finish 7-0 and win gold at the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup in Belarus. She was joined at that competition by all three of her 3x3 teammates as well.
“The opportunity to represent USA one more time and have the chance to win a gold medal with my teammates is incredible,” said Van Lith, the two-time Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Class 1A first team honoree and MVP.
Van Lith is a born athlete, excelling since beginning organized sports in second grade. The daughter of Jessica and Corey Van Lith, she has an older brother Tanner who plays basketball at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, Washington.
She says her dad is her biggest inspiration and helps her work on her game.
“He’s pushed me so hard, and I’m glad I have someone who can push me that hard,” she said. “He always reminds me there are other girls out there, so he keeps me working.”
Her idols on the court include four-time Olympic gold medalists Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, two-time Olympic gold medalist Maya Moore, Indiana Fever rookie Kelsey Mitchell and the University of Oregon’s Ruthy Hebard.
Van Lith feels 3x3 is a perfect fit for her athletic abilities. Even though she’s a point guard, she feels defense is the strength of her game and her quickness is her most valuable asset.
“I just like how fast-paced (3x3) is,” she said. “And chaotic at times. Things are always happening, and it’s action-packed. The rules are a lot different, totally different than five-on-five, and the ball is a different size, the 3-point line is farther, it’s continuous play. It’s fast and intense, and you have to be in great shape, but I love to play that way.”
Van Lith first learned about 3x3 in what she called a “random email” last year from USA Basketball’s Carol Callan, the women’s national team director, asking if she wanted to play on the select team at nationals.
“That was my first time with USA (Basketball), I gave it a shot, and I loved it,” Van Lith said. “This year has been great.”
She’s trusting the process.
One of the coaches advised her to trust in her skills and focus on what she’s good at rather than try to play all over the place. She does that with her life outside basketball as well.
Like many teenagers, Van Lith enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She loves hiking in the nearby mountains, is active in her church and excels in school, particularly with math and science. She is looking into the possibility of majoring in engineering in college.
In addition to getting ready for her junior year of high school, Van Lith is excited about her trip to Argentina.
“I’m really pumped,” she said. “It’s going to be a whole new experience.”