FIBA U19 World Cup Gold Earns Jeff Walz Co-National Coach of the Year Honors
The United States, especially on the women’s side, has a worldwide reputation as a basketball powerhouse.
So when Jeff Walz was coaching the Americans in the FIBA U19 World Cup this summer and faced what appeared to be an insurmountable deficit in the waning seconds of the gold-medal game against Australia in Thailand, he had faith his players had what it took to rally.
“It's what USA Basketball is all about. It's what I love about it,” said Walz, the women’s head coach at the University of Louisville. “I think (women’s national team director) Carol Callan has such a wonderful culture that they have developed. You're playing for a gold medal. That's the expectation that you have to have gold-medal habits.”
Faced with a three-point deficit with 15 seconds left and having just missed a 3-pointer, the U.S. benefited from a wayward elbow by an Australian player to tie the game in regulation and win in overtime 74-70 and capture gold for the eighth time in the past nine women’s FIBA U19 World Cups.
That comeback helped Walz earn USA Basketball’s 2019 Co-National Coach of the Year honor. He shares the award with Bruce Weber, who led the USA U19 men’s team to gold in Greece.
“It definitely an honor,” Walz said. “And also, it shows what type of staff we had. I was very fortunate to be able to work with Cori (Close of UCLA) and Natasha (Adair of Delaware) the past two years. And then the players, obviously you don’t get such an award without having an outstanding staff and a good team.”
One of the challenges at the U19 level is blending college freshmen with high school players, but Walz said the group that competed in Thailand more than handled that obstacle.
“It was a group of young women who bought into playing together,” Walz said. “I think it is unique, that age, because you had players who played a year in college, and then you also had high school players. I thought they all came together well and were competing for the same goal, and that was to win a gold medal. I thought their competitiveness and their willingness to play together was really important for this team.”
Added Walz: “It comes down to players making plays.”
This was the sixth time Walz has had some sort of role with a USA Basketball team. He has been a head coach, an assistant coach and a court coach. The latter duty came in 2017 when he helped with the USA Women’s National Team’s October training camp.
Walz had a big takeaway from watching how the WNT went about its daily business.
“How hard they go and their professionalism that they do everything with,” he said. “You know, you talk about a lot of players want to be pros, but they don't know how to add the professionalism in order to get them there. And then you have the opportunity to work with the national team, and you're just watching all these women that it's what do you do for a living, it's their job. And they treat it like that, not only how they work on the court, but how they take care of their bodies off the court.”
Walz will have a much different role regarding USA Basketball in a couple months. Walz will be on the Louisville bench Feb. 2 when the USA Women’s National Team pays a visit to the Louisville campus as part of its warm-up for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia (Feb. 6-9). The WNT is playing at various college campuses as part of its yearlong preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.
“It's going to be exciting,” Walz said. “It will be a great opportunity for our players to have the chance to play against the national team. It's interesting being in the middle of the season. We actually play at Notre Dame the Thursday before. We play the national team on Sunday, and then I believe after that, we're at Florida State.
“So, it's going to be pretty challenging stretch for us. But it's one of those I couldn't pass up, and I wouldn't want to say no, just because I think the opportunity for our own players is something they'll always be able to say they had the opportunity to play against the national team.”
It will also give Walz another point of view regarding how USA Basketball goes about its business.
“It's being able to be surrounded by other great coaches,” Walz said. “So, you're able to trade ideas and see how other coaches do things. And then when I was given an opportunity to be a floor coach with the national team, it was really just such an honor to be able to be on the court with some of the best to have ever played out there and just watching how they do things. And then when you're working them — I had the opportunity to work with post players — and you tell (them) one time and it's done, because it's what they do. That's their profession. It's their job. And it was an awesome opportunity and experience for myself. And then to carry that over (to other levels), I love everything about what USA Basketball stands for.”