With Experience 3x3’s Hailey Van Lith Has Emerged as Vocal and Confident Leader
When you watch Hailey Van Lith perform on the basketball court, you see someone who is an impactful player, but also a leader.
It wasn’t always that way.
Van Lith, a rising junior guard at the University of Louisville with WNBA potential and a member of the USA Basketball 3x3 Women’s National Team, says she has grown in leadership — specifically being vocal, assertive and comfortable in her own skin.
“I’m most proud of how I’ve grown off the court,” said Van Lith, who already is a veteran of USA Basketball teams at age 20. “I’ve seen these experiences shape me into someone who is more outgoing and someone who embraces different experiences more. I think it’s not as much about the basketball accomplishments as it is about me improving as a normal person.”
Does that mean she used to be quiet and awkward?
“Oh yes, 100 percent,” Van Lith said. “Playing for USA Basketball, I go so many places, meet so many people from different cultures and different walks of life. I think the game has really grown my confidence. And when you grow in your confidence, you’re more comfortable being yourself. And now I can be myself. I’ve really enjoyed that.”
Buoyed by her newfound confidence, Van Lith will compete for the U.S. at the FIBA 3x3 World Cup taking place June 21-26 in Antwerp, Belgium.
She is no stranger to the international stage, having competed for USA Basketball in several tournaments over the last four years. She was tournament MVP in the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup in 2019. The prior year, Van Lith helped the U.S. 3x3 team win a gold medal with a perfect 7-0 run at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.
“Playing for my country is always a huge honor,” said Van Lith, a native of Wenatchee, Washington. “There are so many great players, and to be one of the players they want to represent us is always a big honor. When we go play (in Belgium), I’m going to do the best I can to carry on the legacy and win gold.”
Van Lith is joined on the team by Cierra Burdick, a forward who played for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm last season; Lauren Cox, a forward who played for the Los Angeles Sparks; and Ashley Joens, a guard at Iowa State.
“I think we have a mix of experience and newcomers,” Van Lith said. “It’s Ashley’s first time and Lauren’s pretty new, but me and Cierra have a little more experience. I think at the end of the day, we have good competitors who are willing to learn. Even though we are inexperienced with varying playing styles, I think it’s a good balance. We’ll step out there and try to win.”
As the team’s point guard, Van Lith understands that her primary responsibility is to get the ball to Burdick, Cox and Joens and to facilitate the team’s fast-paced offense. In 3x3 basketball, every pass is critical, as teams typically get into their offense in a matter of seconds.
“My role is to get the other girls shots in positions where they can be successful and then create for myself when the time comes,” said Van Lith, who averaged 14.4 points at Louisville this past season as a sophomore, was named All-Atlantic Coast Conference and helped the Cardinals reach the Final Four. “And I need to lead the team, be a voice at the point guard position. I think you can’t overcomplicate it. You’ve just got to make the right play. If you need to shoot, you shoot. And if you need to get a teammate a shot, you do that.”
In fact, her passing ability is the No. 1 area where Van Lith believes she’s improved on the court since high school.
“My ability to set teammates up and be more creative with my passing,” she said. “I see a lot more angles and open plays than I used to. I can create a little bit better and my vision has improved.”
Van Lith has had the benefit of learning under head coach Kara Lawson, the Duke University coach who has guided the U.S. women’s 3x3 teams to seven tournament championships since 2017, including an Olympic gold medal last year in Tokyo.
“I’ve had a great experience with Coach Lawson,” Van Lith said. “She’s been with me through my whole 3x3 career. Her coaching style is a little more hands-off. She wants the players to lead. She pushes us to make corrections and to be more self-accountable. I appreciate that about her style. She’s definitely a players’ coach. In 3x3, she’s helped me grow up a little bit with my communication and talking through the game and explaining and reading basketball. It’s been great.”
Drew Silverman is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.