2019 U.S. Pan American Games Women’s Basketball Team Coaches Announced
A trio of head coaches in Suzy Merchant (Michigan State), who will serve as U.S. head coach, Felisha Legette-Jack (Buffalo) and Vic Schaefer (Mississippi State) have been selected to coach the 2019 U.S. Pan American Games Women’s Basketball Team.
The USA Basketball Women’s Junior National Team Committee, chaired by George Washington University head coach Jennifer Rizzotti, is responsible for selecting the U.S. coaching staff, which is approved by the USA Basketball Board of Directors and pending approval by the United States Olympic Committee.
Merchant previously served as an assistant coach for the 2009 USA World University Games Team while Legette-Jack was an assistant coach for the 2003 USA U21 World Cup and 2005 USA U19 World Cup gold medalist teams. This is Schaefer’s first coaching stint with USA Basketball.
Trials to select the 12-member team will be held May 16-20 at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Training camp will follow July 15-30, with the competition taking place July 31-Aug. 4 in Lima, Peru.
Athletes eligible for this team must be U.S. citizens who currently are enrolled as a full-time collegiate student with remaining eligibility for the 2019-2020 school year.
“This combination of coaches has brought success to their respective collegiate programs,” said Rizzotti. “Suzy and Felisha both have prior USA Basketball coaching experience, and Vic has been a proven winner at the college level bringing his teams to the NCAA National Championship game in the past two seasons. Because of that, the committee felt that this well-rounded trio of coaches will help us in our goal of claiming a gold medal at the Pan American Games this summer.”
Merchant is in her 12th season (2007-08 to present) as Michigan State University head coach and her 23rd year as a collegiate head coach (1995-96 to present). In Merchant’s last stint with USA Basketball as an assistant coach in 2009, the USA went undefeated with a 7-0 record and took home the World University Games gold medal, topping Russia 83-64 in the championship game.
“First off I would say it’s extremely humbling,” Merchant said. “I don’t think there’s a prouder moment in your profession than to be able to represent your country and have the opportunity to win a gold medal. I feel very blessed and honored to have this opportunity.”
During Merchant’s 12-year tenure, the Spartans have captured Big Ten Conference regular season titles twice, in 2011-12 and 2013-14. She holds a 465-253 (.648) career record (all records as of March 11, 2019), has led the Spartans to eight NCAA Tournament appearances and advanced her team to the WNIT title game in her first year as head coach.
In 2018-19, the Spartans finished 20-11 overall, 9-9 in the Big Ten, and 15-1 at home, with wins over No. 3 Oregon, No. 9 Maryland No. 16 Iowa and No. 18 Minnesota. This past weekend, Merchant and the Spartans beat Northwestern in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, but lost to Maryland in the Quarterfinals.
Prior to MSU, Merchant spent nine seasons (1998-99 to 2006-07) as head coach at Eastern Michigan University, where she departed as the winningest coach in program history with a 147-91 record (.618 winning percentage).
Legette-Jack is in her seventh season (2012-13 to present) as head coach for University at Buffalo and has a 139-85 overall record (.621) (all records as of March 11, 2019), which is the second most wins in program history by a head coach. Under Legette-Jack, the Bulls have produced four straight 20-plus win seasons for just the second time in school history.
“It’s an honor and privilege, it’s everything,” Legette-Jack said. “I have my USA plaques on my wall above my head. To have the red, white and blue on and to go out there and compete against the odds, you win the gold medal and you stand there and hear the national anthem. It’s humbling and it’s a privilege to represent.”
In 2018-19, Legette-Jack has led the Bulls to a 20-9 overall record and 12-6 in the Mid-American Conference.
In 2017-18, the Bulls earned an NCAA Tournament at-large bid and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history after upsets over No. 6 South Florida and No. 3 Florida State. They finished with a program record 29-6 overall record and 16-2 in the MAC.
Legette-Jack previously was the head coach at Indiana University for six years (2006-07 to 2011-12) and the head coach at Hofstra University for four years (2002-03 to 2005-06). She also had an 11-year run (1991-92 to 2001-02) as an assistant coach for programs including Boston College, Michigan State, and Syracuse University.
Schaefer is in his seventh season (2012-13 to present) as head coach for Mississippi State University and is coming off of a record-setting season in 2017-18.
“I am very honored and humbled to have the opportunity to represent the United States of America, across the world in competition,” Schaefer said.“Being the son of a full colonel in the United States Army, I have a tremendous appreciation for the red white and blue along with this great country. To have the opportunity to be a coach on a team representing this country is the ultimate, for me, as a coach and a competitor. I am honored to be on a staff with coach Merchant and coach Legette-Jack, as I have had the honor of competing against them in my career. I have the utmost respect for both of them.”
Schaefer has an overall record of 191-55 (.776) at Mississippi State (all records as of March 11, 2019). Under Schaefer, Mississippi State has reached the 30-win mark each of the last three seasons.
The Bulldogs made history in the 2018-19 season, winning their first ever Southeastern Conference Tournament Championship and their second SEC regular-season championship, finishing 30-2 overall and 15-1 in the SEC. For his efforts, Schaefer was tabbed the SEC Coach of the Year for the third time in five seasons.
In 2017-18, Schaefer led the Bulldogs to a second-straight NCAA National Championship game and their first SEC regular-season championship. They not only set the program record with 37 wins and a .949 winning percentage but also opened the year with 32-consecutive victories which is the most in Mississippi State history and the second-longest winning streak in SEC history. Schaefer was named 2018 Naismith National Coach of the Year honors, as well as national accolades from the WBCA, USBWA and College Sports Madness.
In addition to Rizzotti, the USA Junior National Team Committee includes 2008 Olympic gold medalist Kara Lawson as the athletic representative; and Karen Aston (Texas), Tonya Cardoza (Temple) and Wes Moore (North Carolina State) as the NCAA representatives.
Pan American Games
The Pan American Games are held every four years (2019, 2023, etc.) in the year preceding the Olympics and organized by Panam Sports. The Pan American Games is a multi-sport competition open to men and women representing countries from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean. It originally started in 1951 for men and 1955 for women.
Including host Peru and the United States, teams competing in the five-on-five basketball tournament (there also is a 3x3 Pan Am Games tournament) are: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Paraguay, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Overall, the American women have earned seven gold medals, five silver medals and two bronze medals and have compiled a record of 78-15. In the most recent edition, the 2015 U.S. Pan American Games Team finished with a 4-1 record to return from Toronto, Canada, with the silver medal.
Among some of the top players who have competed in the Pan American Games are: Jennifer Azzi (1991), Carol Blazejowski (1979), Cynthia Cooper (1987), Anne Donovan (1987 and 1983), Teresa Edwards (1991, 1987), Pat Head (Summitt) (1975), Nancy Lieberman (1979 and 1975), Janel McCarville (2003), Katrina McClain (1991 and 1987), Carla McGhee (1995), Ann Meyers (1979, 1975), Cheryl Miller (1983), Kelsey Plum (2015), Dawn Staley (1995), Breanna Stewart (2011, 2015), Sheryl Swoopes (1995) and Lynette Woodard (1991, 1983).