At AmeriCup Trials, USA Basketball Rookies Alongside Experience
Her dad played collegiately at Wake Forest and professionally in Germany. But, basketball wasn’t the focus for Elizabeth Kitley until her sophomore year at Northwest Guilford High School in Greensboro, North Carolina. Instead, she thought her path to a college scholarship would be in softball or maybe even volleyball.
But as it became clear to her that those options might not be ideal, Kitley began to blossom on the basketball court.
Coming off a sophomore season at Virginia Tech in which she averaged 18.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, it looks like her future in hoops could be very bright. The 6-foot-5 center’s stock steadily has risen in the past four years to the point where she was one of 20 players invited to the USA Basketball Women’s AmeriCup Team trials. It is Kitley’s first USA Basketball experience.
The trials, which run through Wednesday at the University of South Carolina campus, will determine the 12-player U.S. roster for the 10-nation FIBA AmeriCup, which will be held June 11-19 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is the first step toward the USA qualifying for the 2022 FIBA World Cup in Australia.
“My main goal is just do my best, and there's nothing else that I can really do,” said Kitley, a All-Atlantic Coast Conference first team selection this season after being named the ACC Freshman of the Year. “I just want to play basketball and have fun while I'm here and learn a lot.”
Kitley admits to being a little nervous entering the camp — “I guess I get nervous for everything,” she said — but she could take a cue from Maryland’s Ashley Owusu on how to handle the stress.
Owusu, also in the AmeriCup trials, also was a bit shy when she took part in the 2016 USA U17 World Cup Team trials as her first time with USA Basketball. Her biggest lesson?
“Just having to use my voice more, be more vocal,” Owusu said.
Owusu said she typically is more of a leader by example instead of a huge vocal presence, but that previous camp made her realize the importance of her voice.
“It was a few years ago, so I was obviously a little younger and didn't know how important it was coming out of my shell and doing things like that,” Owusu said.
It has certainly benefited Owusu. The 5-11 guard has been a star during her first two seasons at Maryland. She was the Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Year and an all-conference first team selection as a sophomore, when she also earned All-America third team honors. She was the Most Outstanding Player of the Big Ten Tournament as a freshman and shared that honor with teammate Diamond Miller — who also is participating in the AmeriCup trials — this year.
What type of advice would Owusu give to someone like Kitley in their USA Basketball debut?
“There's a lot of people, so usually kids who come here are probably the best if not one of the best one of the best on their team,” said Owusu, who averaged 17.9 points and 5.9 assists for Maryland and won the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award as the nation’s top shooting guard. “Just being willing to — not take a backseat, but to share the ball more, do the little things like being more vocal, taking defense more seriously.”
Kitley said she entered camp with an open mind.
“I just can't wait to hear all the coaches instruct me, show me a new move, anything,” she said. “I'll be like a sponge ready to soak up whatever they have to say.”
In particular, Kitley is excited to be learning from Dawn Staley, the coach of the AmeriCup and USA Women’s National Team, and Adia Barnes, an AmeriCup assistant whose stocked soared when she took Arizona to the NCAA title game earlier this month. The USA coaching staff is completed by Jennifer Rizzotti.
“I love both of them — on the court and also what they stand for off the court,” Kitley said. “Dawn Staley being outspoken about what she believes, and also Adia Barnes being a mother and doing whatever she has to do for her family. I think it's just really cool, and I look up to both of them as strong women, and hopefully I'm going to learn from them.”
While her playing resume is still quite young, Kitley already has made quite an impression, one she would like to further with USA Basketball by earning one of the 12 AmeriCup roster spots.
“It would be so cool, because it's something I've never done, but I've seen a lot of people do it, and I know people that have done it,” Kitley said. “To finally have it be me in that experience would be pretty surreal and really exciting for sure.”