USA U19 World Cup Team Ready for Competition
After 20 practice sessions, the first of which was July 5 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and 7,784 air miles, the 2019 USA Basketball Women’s U19 World Cup Team is ready to take the court tomorrow at the 13th FIBA U19 World Cup in Bangkok, Thailand.
The team departed Colorado and spent four days training in Tokyo, where it scrimmaged against Japan’s U19 squad before arriving in Bangkok, where it went up against Argentina and Germany in a pair of friendlies.
After two weeks of training and traveling, the team is feeling more than ready for the ball to be tossed into the air and tip-off its first game.
The USA, No. 1 in FIBA’s world youth women’s rankings, opens preliminary play on July 20 (1:15 a.m. EDT) against Australia, the world’s No. 7-ranked junior women’s team and one of the USA’s biggest adversaries in international play.
“Everybody’s excited to get started,” said Jeff Walz, USA U19 and University of Louisville head coach. “You can go through training camp, you can go through practice and I think everybody’s ready to play someone else. Even though we’ve had some scrimmages, it’s still not the same. Tomorrow should be a really good basketball game.
“It’s good, it’s bad, it’s a little bit of it all,” added Walz. “Australia has no real scouting report on us, we only have three returning players from last year’s U18 team that won a gold medal, and they have a good portion of their U18 roster back. So, I think they have a lot more unknown about us than we have about them. But at the same time, we’re just going off of games that we watched them play in the U18 Asian Championship. So, there is a lot of unknown, which is going to make it very interesting.”
Australia, which qualified for this year’s U19 World Cup by virtue of a bronze-medal finish at the 2018 FIBA Asia U18 Championship, has captured one gold medal (1993), one silver medal (1997) and three bronze medals (1989, 2013 and 2015) in previous FIBA U19 World Cups.
“It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be good for us to face a good team off the bat,” said Paige Bueckers, who has won three gold medals playing for USA Basketball, including last summer’s FIBA U17 World Cup. “I think it’ll open our eyes to the rest of the competition in the tournament, and it’ll be great to have a tough game first.”
The USA will continue preliminary play in a July 21 contest against No. 15 South Korea (1 a.m. EDT), and after a rest day, the USA will cap preliminary games July 23 against No. 14 Hungary (1 a.m. EDT).
Following the preliminary round, all teams will advance to the July 24 round of 16, where the USA will cross over with Group D teams and face either Colombia, Japan, Germany or Spain, depending on preliminary standings.
The winners of the round of 16 will advance to the July 26 medal quarterfinals, and the losers will play out for ninth-16th places. The semifinals will be played on July 27, and the gold and bronze medal games on July 28.
In addition to Bueckers, members of the 2019 USA U19 World Cup Team are: Francesca Belibi (Regis H.S./Centennial, Colo.); Aliyah Boston (Worcester Academy, Mass./St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.); Cameron Brink (Southridge H.S./Beaverton, Ore.); Ashley Joens (Iowa City, Iowa); Caitlin Clark (Dowling Catholic H.S./West Des Moines, Iowa); Queen Egbo (Baylor/Houston, Texas); Naz Hillmon-Baker (Michigan/Cleveland, Ohio); Rhyne Howard (Kentucky/Cleveland, Tenn.); Diamond Miller (Franklin H.S./Somerset, N.J.); Celeste Taylor (Long Island Lutheran/Valley Stream, N.Y.); and Hailey Van Lith (Cashmere H.S./Wenatchee, Wash.).
Not lost on anyone is the fact that the USA, despite owning a record seven gold medals at the event, is not the defending champion. However, Russia, which nipped the U.S. by four points in the 2017 gold medal game, did not qualify for this year’s tournament, and many are looking at the Americans as favorites.
Working out against three different styles of opponents – Japan is relentless on defense, Argentina plays an up-tempo game and the scrimmage against Germany was very physical – helped the USA prepare for the aggressive play they will see over the next seven games.
“It’s helped a lot, being able to scrimmage and play with each other against teams that we might face in the tournament,” said Bueckers. “It’s really opened our eyes to how physical the competition is going to be and some of the stuff that other teams do, and how we play together as well.”
After two weeks together, Walz has begun to formulate a plan of attack in the team’s quest to reclaim the U19 gold medal, one which he’ll continue to tweak as the tournament progresses.
“We’re going to have to go inside-out, that’s one thing I’ve talked to our players about,” he said after the team’s final pre-tournament practice. “We’ve got to get the ball into the paint. We’ve got to make sure we have a big post presence and allow them to pass the ball back out. That’s something we can’t lose track of. We can’t get into a 3-point shooting contest. We’ve got to make sure we know where our strengths are.”
Originally known as the FIBA Junior World Championship, the tournament was held every four years starting in 1985. FIBA changed its calendar in 2005 and now conducts the U19 World Cup every other year.
USA women’s teams are 79-13 in U19/Junior World Cups, capturing a sixth-consecutive gold in 2015 with a 7-0 record.
Walz is being assisted by collegiate head coaches Natasha Adair (Delaware) and Cori Close (UCLA).
“It feels like we’ve been practicing and training forever and this is what it’s all built up for, so I’m excited to play tomorrow,” Bueckers added.
Fans in the United States should set their alarms (Bangkok is 11 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time) to get up and watch games live online at Facebook.com/USABasketball or YouTube.com/FIBA. The medal semifinals and finals will stream on ESPN+.