Cori Close Returns to USA Basketball to Lead 2021 USA Women’s U19 World Cup Team
-- Aaron Johnston and Joni Taylor Round Out the Coaching Staff --
UCLA head coach Cori Close, who was an assistant coach for a pair of gold-medal winning USA Basketball teams, has been selected to serve as the 2021 USA Basketball Women’s U19 World Cup Team head coach. College head coaches Aaron Johnston from South Dakota State University and Joni Taylor from the University of Georgia, both of whom will coach internationally for the first time with USA Basketball, round out the coaching staff as 2021 USA U19 assistant coaches. Trials to select the 12-member team will be held May 14-16 at Metro State University in Denver, and trials invitees will be announced at a later date.
The coaching staff was chosen by the USA Basketball Women’s Junior National Team Selection Committee.
“I think we put together a really dynamic staff,” said Jennifer Rizzotti, chair of the selection committee and Connecticut Sun president. “We have three of the best coaches in the country. Even more importantly, they complement each other really well. With Cori leading the way, as a committee we feel confident about their opportunity to bring home a gold medal from the U19 World Cup. It’s a really hard competition to win. I think they’re very hungry after missing out on the U18 competition last summer and we feel very confident as a committee that they’re going to get the job done.”
Featuring U19 teams from 16 nations, the 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup is scheduled to be held Aug. 7-15 in Debrecen, Hungary. In addition to the USA and host Hungary, teams that will take part in this summer’s U19 World Cup include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Italy, Japan, Mali, Russia, South Korea and Spain.
FIBA held the draw to determine preliminary round groups for the 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup on April 28, and the USA was drawn into Group A, alongside Australia, Egypt and Italy for the Aug. 7-10 preliminary round. The USA will open play against Italy on Aug. 7, followed by Australia on Aug. 8 and cap preliminary play against Egypt on Aug. 10. Times will be announced by FIBA at a later date.
Reigning FIBA U19 World Cup gold medalist, USA women’s teams have won eight gold medals, one silver medal and one bronze medal while compiling an 86-13 overall record in U19 World Cup play since the event was launched in 1985. Even more impressive, the USA has posted a 62-3 record and won seven of the past eight U19 golds since 2005.
Due to COVID-19 precautions, no media or guests will be allowed to view trials sessions. However, USA Basketball will provide media with images and b-roll for non-commercial, editorial use.
In addition to Rizzotti, the USA Junior National Team Selection Committee includes Temple University head coach Tonya Cardoza; 2008 Olympic gold medalist and Duke University head coach Kara Lawson; and North Carolina State University head coach Wes Moore.
This marks Close’s fourth USA Basketball coaching assignment and third for an international event. She helped the USA to a gold medal as an assistant coach for the 2019 USA team that won a gold medal with a 7-0 record at the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup and the 2018 USA U18 squad that finished with a 6-0 record and the gold medal at the 2018 FIBA Americas U18 Championship, which qualified the U.S. for the 2019 U19s. Prior to that, she was a court coach at the 2017 USA U23 National Team training camp.
“I am so honored to be a part of the USA Basketball organization,” said Close, who in 2020-21 piloted the Bruins to a 17-6 record and the second round of the NCAA Tournament. “It is such a privilege to serve alongside the other great coaches, and to relentlessly pursue the highest levels of excellence. I can’t wait to invest in these student athletes, compete together, and hopefully bring home a gold medal. This is one of the most special experiences of my coaching career.”
Close recently completed her 10th season at the helm of the UCLA women’s basketball program (2011-12 to present), where she has compiled an overall record of 215-110 record (.662 winning percentage) through the 2020-21 season.
Close, who has posted six 20-win seasons at UCLA, has advanced the Bruins to postseason play seven of the nine seasons in which the NCAA Tournament or WNIT were held, including the past five NCAA Tournaments, where she advanced UCLA as far as the Elite 8 in 2018, three Sweet 16s (2016, 2017 and 2019) and the NCAA second round (2021). In 2015, Close piloted the Bruins to the WNIT championship.
The 2019-20 campaign, which was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, saw Close lead her team to a 26-5 record and the Pacific-12 Conference Tournament semifinals. Additionally, the Bruins ranked No. 9 in the final USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 10 in the final Associated Press Poll.
The winningest women’s basketball coach in South Dakota State history, Johnston previously was a court coach for the 2019 USA U19 and Pan American Games team trials.
“Working with USA Basketball is a tremendous privilege, and I am honored to serve as an assistant coach on the U19 team,” said Johnston, who in 2021 earned his fifth Summit League Coach of the Year honor. “Cori and Joni are elite coaches and leaders. I look forward to learning from them and supporting the athletes as we all pursue excellence on the court.”
Johnston recently completed his 21st season as head coach at SDSU (2000-01 to present), where he owns a career record of 513-170 (.751 winning percentage). He also posted a 4-2 record over the final six games in 1999-2000 as the program’s interim head coach.
In 2020-21, the Jackrabbits finished with a 21-4 record and went a perfect 14-0 in the Summit League, claiming their seventh regular season league title and capped the year with an appearance in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
In all, since SDSU moved to NCAA Division I ahead of the 2004-05 season, Johnston has helped guide the Jackrabbits to nine Summit League Tournament crowns, 14 postseason appearances, including 10 NCAA Tournaments, and has never posted a losing season during his time at the helm of the program.
In perhaps his most successful season, Johnston coached SDSU in 2018-19 to a 28-7 overall record, 15-1 in the Summit League and earned a program-best No. 6 seed for the 2019 NCAA Tournament, where the Jackrabbits advanced to the Sweet 16.
Taylor, who has been at the helm of Georgia for six seasons (2015-16 to present), earned her first USA Basketball coaching assignment as a court coach for the 2018 USA U18 National Team trials.
“USA Basketball represents the highest level of excellence,” said Taylor, the 2021 Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year and one of four finalists for the Naismith National Coach of the Year award. “I had the privilege of serving as a court coach for the 2018 USA U18 National Team trials, and it was one of the most special things I’ve been a part of in my career. I look forward to working alongside some of the best coaches in our profession and investing in these student-athletes as we look to bring home a gold medal.”
This past season, Taylor coached her squad to a 21-7 overall record and advanced to the Southeastern Conference Tournament finals and the 2021 NCAA Tournament second round. The team earned five wins against top-25 teams, including the first sweep of Tennessee since 1985 and a victory over No. 2 Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament semifinals, and entered the 2021 NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 seed, its highest since 2007.
In six seasons at Georgia, Taylor has compiled a 119-65 (.647 winning percentage) record, posted six winning seasons, including three seasons with 20-plus victories, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament three of the five years it was held.
In 2016, she won Spalding Maggie Dixon National Rookie Coach of the Year and Georgia College Coach of the Year honors after compiling 21 wins in her first season.
Overall, Taylor owns 20 seasons of coaching experience at the Division I level. She was an associate head coach at Georgia for three seasons (2012-13 to 2014-15) and an assistant coach there in 2011-12. Prior to Georgia, Taylor was an assistant coach at Louisiana State University in 2010-11, an associate head coach at Alabama from 2008-09 to 2009-10, an assistant coach and associate head coach at Louisiana Tech from 2005-06 to 2007-08 and an assistant at Troy from 2002-03 to 2004-05.