Tennessee Recruit Justine Pissott Is Ready to Fit In with U18 Women’s Team
When putting together a team to compete in an international tournament, talent and ability among the player pool are givens. What can really separate a player is their unselfishness: Can they adapt to not being the No. 1 option on the floor?
Justine Pissott knows exactly what is expected of her as a member of the USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team that is competing at the 2022 FIBA U18 Women’s Americas Championship this week in Buenos Aires. The U.S. has won the last nine gold medals and 10 of the 12 titles at this age level in tournament history.
“It’s probably a big adjustment, but it’s not too big because I know my role on this team,” said Pissott, who is making her USA Basketball debut. “I just do little things. If we need an open 3, I’ll be the one to score that 3. If we need the last shot, I’ll shoot the last shot. But I’m not worried about getting my points because if I worry about that, then that fails our team and that’s not what I came here to do.”
That is a pretty good outlook for the 6-foot-4 McDonald’s All-American from Toms River, New Jersey.
Pissott averaged 17.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks in her senior season for Red Bank Catholic High School. She’s ready to lean into whichever of those areas the national team asks her to.
“I came here for one reason — that’s to win a gold medal” said Pissott, the 11th-ranked overall recruit in the espnW HoopGurlz Class of 2022 who is headed to the University of Tennessee next fall. “So I have to do what coach says, which is get the loose balls, rebound, sprint the floor. Scoring will come into play by doing all that stuff first.”
Pissott, a guard and wing player who feels she is versatile enough to play anywhere on the floor, embraces not being in a primary role as it will help her focus and improve on her other skills as she gets ready for the transition from high school to big-time college hoops. Her teammates on the national team are a big help.
“It definitely makes me better,” Pissott said. “I mean, I have Cotie (McMahon), who spreads the floor who talks 24/7, which makes me want to talk 24/7 and sprint the floor. I have Londynn (Jones), who is locked down on defense pressing full court, which makes me engaged into playing better defense, as well as everyone else. Chloe (Kitts) is rebounding 24/7. She’s getting all loose balls, so that makes me want to do that when she’s out of the game.”
Pissott’s passion is evident as she talks about her role with USA Basketball and how she fits in with her teammates. Her intensity also comes through. One of the players she likes to watch is Breanna Stewart, the Seattle Storm star who is a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA.
In selecting Tennessee to play college ball, Pissott had a bit of a different recruiting experience that sold her on the program.
“It was just a family,” said Pissott, praising the campus and coach Kellie Harper. “I walked into coach’s office and it just felt like a second family to me. Every other school, they gave me their uniform to take pictures in. (At Tennessee) I was like, ‘Oh, can I take the uniform to take pictures in?’ She’s like, ‘We don't do that here.’ And I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ And she’s like, ‘You have to come here in order to take a picture in our uniform because this uniform means something to us.’ So I think that was the icing on the cake because that meant a lot to me.”
Wearing the USA Basketball jersey is also special for Pissott. Basketball has provided many adventures for her, including her second trip abroad after a family vacation to the Dominican Republic. But since this is a basketball business trip, Pissott hasn’t taken the time to research sites to see, instead being focused on bringing home a gold medal.
“It means a lot,” Pissott said of playing for USA Basketball. “I never thought I would be in this situation, so I’m going to take full advantage of the lifetime opportunity. I’m representing my country, not just on the basketball court, but off the basketball court. I have to be professional.”
Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California.