Lauren Betts Showing She Belongs Among World’s Best With Selection to USA U16 National Team
You generally can count on a stacked roster when it comes to any USA Basketball team competing at an international event. The United States has waves of talented players available at all age levels.
For the players who make up those rosters, seeing how they measure up against other elite American players can be a nerve-wracking process.
Take Lauren Betts, for example.
One of the top recruits of the Class of 2022, Betts is on the ESPN HoopGurlz watch list and was named all-state honorable mention following her freshman season at Grandview High School in Aurora, Colorado. Plus, she played in the 2018 USA Basketball 3x3 U18 National Championship.
Betts was one of 146 players who began battling for one of 12 roster spots for the U16 Women’s National Team that will represent USA Basketball at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Puerto Aysen, Chile, from June 16-22.
There was little doubt the 6-foot-7 15-year-old would make it through the early rounds of cuts as the player pool was whittled down from 146 to 98, then 68 and 42. Betts was named one of the 18 finalists, but that meant one more cut following another few days of practices and scrimmages. That also meant sweating out the final cut.
“It was really scary,” Betts said of waiting for the 12-player roster to be named. “The day of, when everyone was just like sitting together on the couch and they were calling out names, that was the scariest thing ever. But once you get out and they tell you that you made the team, it’s like the best feeling ever.”
Now, Betts is hoping for some more good feelings. The U.S. will face Mexico, El Salvador and host Chile during group play in a tournament where it has a 24-1 all-time record, winning four of the five gold medals in event history. The only loss came to Brazil in the 2015 semifinals.
The team is practicing for a week in Colorado Springs, Colorado, before heading to Chile, giving players a chance to develop chemistry and work on their skills.
“Playing against these girls has really helped me with my abilities, especially with these amazing coaches,” said Betts, who led her high school team to the 2019 state championship game. “I’ve learned so much so far. It really humbles you, because there are so many good girls here from all over the country. You think you are the best in your state and then you come here, and you go, ‘Oh, there’s a lot of good girls here.’”
One of the biggest areas Betts said she has improved upon has been her post-up game. At 6-foot-7, she rarely faces players her height. On this roster, she is going up against 6-foot-5 Amari DeBerry and a few others in the 6-foot-3 range.
“When I play high school, they would give me simple lobs, so there are easy buckets,” Betts said. “When I come here, I have somebody right behind my back, so I have to feel them, just make sure I get in good position so I can play them one-on-one.”
Something else that has helped with Betts’ skill set has been playing volleyball.
“It helps with your vertical, especially,” Betts said. “All that jumping and all those blocks you are trying to get all the time during volleyball really helps basketball because you are just hopping around all over the place and helping with your vertical.”
Volleyball also helped get her used to new surroundings in high school. But it wasn’t the first time she was in foreign territory.
Betts was born in Spain, where her British father, Andrew, and American mother, Michelle, settled as dad played basketball in Europe. Andrew Betts played collegiately in the U.S. at Long Beach State University and was drafted in the second round by the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets in 1998, but he went overseas to play professionally.
The family moved to the U.S. when Betts was in the third grade, which is about the time she started to play basketball.
“I’ve always been kind of on my own, but I really fell in love with basketball,” Betts said. “I’m so lucky to have my dad to help me out, because he played basketball for so many years. He’s really helped me with training and being the best player I can be.”
While she has experience traveling internationally, she only has a short trip (less than 60 miles) to get from her home in Centennial, Colorado, to the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. So when the situation arises, she acts as a bit of a local guide. The biggest item she provides advice on is adjusting to the altitude. Her tips? Drink water, stay off your feet and keep nourished in the cafeteria.
“We don’t really go out much besides the Training Center, so it’s not like I get to go around that much,” Betts said. “Once the weather hits, I just tell them this is what it is usually like in Colorado. All the girls are used to super-hot weather, and I’m like, ‘This is actually pretty nice for me. It feels pretty good.’”
Going to Chile for the FIBA Americas U16 Championship will allow Betts to dust off her Spanish, which she was fluent in while living in Spain but hasn’t used much since moving to Colorado. She is also hoping to bring back some hardware — gold, specifically — after being selected to play for USA Basketball.
“It’s amazing,” Betts said. “I really had dreamed about being on this team, and it’s like a dream come true to me. It just shows how my hard work has paid off. It’s really amazing and I’m just thankful to be on this team.”