Standing 6-Foot-5 and With Elite Skills, Amari DeBerry Can Hoop Beyond Her Years
Amari DeBerry has stood head and shoulders above a lot of the people she has played basketball with and against for the past few years.
That will happen when you are 15 years old and 6-foot-5.
Yet for the next couple of weeks, DeBerry is in the unusual position of just fitting in with the rest of the girls — yes, even some in the 6-foot-5 height range. After trials began for the USA U16 National Team with 146 hopefuls in Colorado Springs, Colorado, DeBerry was named as one of 18 finalists. And then after finalists training camp concluded, she was named to the 12-member roster for the USA team at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Puerto Aysen, Chile, from June 16-22.
“Since I have always been playing against people older, (now) playing against girls my age — it’s not much of a difference, but it’s nice because we can connect more,” DeBerry said. “Always being 12 and playing with girls 16 and 17, there obviously was that age and maturity gap.”
Whatever gap there has been, DeBerry has made it disappear with her performance. She just finished her sophomore season at Williamsville South High School in New York, where she has been a starter on the varsity team for the past four seasons — yes, since the seventh grade.
She averaged 17.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game as a sophomore, a season after posting 18.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4 blocks per game. She surpassed 1,500 career points as a sophomore, a mark usually achieved by seniors.
“There is some surprise, but I do know that I have worked for everything that I have (accomplished) so far,” DeBerry said. “My high school coaches are so amazing. Some coaches just see players as players, but my coaches see me as a person as well, so it’s really a blessing having my coaches in my life more than just basketball.”
If you sense a high level of maturity with DeBerry, you would be on target. Her mother challenged her from the start of her basketball career, putting her with boys in the third grade. She also tagged along with her older sister, Naomi, who also looked out for her as the younger sister went against players a few years ahead of her in terms of age and physical maturity.
“With basketball, I feel like everything ties into maturity when you are playing with girls older than you,” DeBerry said. “Maturity in your actions, maturity in your accountability, maturity in play. And by play, I mean really bodying up against people, getting stronger.”
This is DeBerry’s third experience with USA Basketball. Last year, she was invited to the USA U17 World Cup Team trials, but she did not make the team. Then in April, she participated in the USA Basketball 3x3 U18 National Championship. Both experiences have helped in the development of her game.
The 2018 USA U17 trials again put her against older competition, although this time the skill level of those players was much higher than what she typically faces in high school.
“I’ve been playing against 18-year-olds, 17-year-olds since I was 11,” DeBerry said. “My sister is older, so I was playing up with her. (The U17 trials were) great, honestly. ... Just playing against those types of players made me realize the level I need to get to to step up my game, like playing hard every single possession, not giving anything up because those girls won’t give you a break at all. Playing against them really helped me prepare mentally and physically for what my standard should be for the upcoming years.”
The 3x3 championship, meanwhile, pushed her skill set, especially her ballhandling. At times in high school, she does bring the ball up the court to start certain plays, but mainly, she said she stays in the post.
“Throughout high school, I was just put as the 5 and that’s it, because I was always the tallest,” she said. “For 3x3, it really helped me expand my game in transitioning to a 4 a little bit. It helped me with my driving and shooting, something I’ve been working on, so that really helped me with that.”
Due to her height, it can be difficult to find players to watch and take pointers from. But DeBerry got a chance to meet two college players — Shakira Austin (University of Maryland) and Olivia Nelson-Ododa (University of Connecticut) — at the U17 trials. She also tries to watch WNBA stars A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart, both No. 1 overall draft picks.
DeBerry and Stewart have a little in common. Stewart is an alum of the Philadelphia Belles AAU team for which DeBerry currently plays. DeBerry even has the same coach Stewart had with the Belles. DeBerry and Stewart also had a brief encounter at a Rising Blue Star camp where DeBerry was helping out and Stewart was a speaker.
“Being compared to her is just so amazing, it’s such an honor,” DeBerry said.
As you might expect, DeBerry — ranked No. 2 in the country by ESPN HoopGurlz — is being sought by all the power programs in college. She plans on taking her time with her decision, which she says could come the summer before her senior year.
For now, she is looking forward to heading to Chile for the FIBA Americas U16 Championship, which the U.S. has won four of the five times it has been played, including the last three.
“There are so many people who would love to be here right now and I’m just really blessed to have this opportunity,” DeBerry said. “The coaches are amazing, the staff, everyone, the teammates are amazing. It’s just amazing to see these girls come together to accomplish one goal, trying to go for gold.”