Among Veterans, Four Young Players Look to Stand Out, Make U.S. World Cup Team
With just days until the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup tips off in Sydney, roster spots on the U.S. Women’s National Team are at a premium.
Four talented young players are making a push to get their names on the list.
All appearing in their first senior national team training camp last week in Las Vegas, WNBA Rookie of the Year Rhyne Howard, fellow All-Rookie Team members Shakira Austin and NaLyssa Smith, all 22, and national college player of the year Aliyah Boston, 20, made their presence felt while playing among Olympians and WNBA veterans.
“We know that sooner or later we’re going to be the face of the league,” said Howard, a 6-foot-2-inch guard with the Atlanta Dream who led all rookies with 16.2 points, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals, while also adding 4.5 rebounds. “And we’re all proud of each other and looking forward to everyone’s careers. I know that this rookie class was tough and everybody collectively, we were really good.
“Being able to play against them and play with them for this amount of time, it’s just great. It just adds to that competition level that we all have.”
Howard, Smith and Austin went 1-2-3 in the 2022 WNBA Draft. Smith said that their invitation to the camp showed that the youthful group was headed in the right direction.
“It just shows women’s basketball is in good hands,” Smith, of the Indiana Fever, said. “The future is strong for us. We are going to learn. We’re all young, getting feedback from all these vets. It’s a good experience for us.”
Austin, who plays for the Washington Mystics, said she has enjoyed being around her fellow WNBA rookies.
“Every moment, we push each other,” Austin said. “It’s nice to have somebody who’s been throughout the process with you. It’s just memorable moments.”
Howard, who played collegiately at Kentucky, welcomed the opportunity to represent her country.
“It’s huge. It’s something that everybody wants to do,” she said. “There’s a tradition that’s within USA (Basketball). You always want to come in and contribute to that.
“At the end of the day, I’m really just here just for the experience and just to have a good time and just take something and learn it because I might get cut, I might not, but at the end of the day, I’m still going to be in the (national team) pool.”
In her first season with the Fever, Smith, a 6-3 forward, averaged 13.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists while starting 32 games.
“I’m enjoying every step of this. It’s been a journey. It’s been fun,” the former Baylor star said. “You’re not used to playing this much, but it’s something I’m getting used to. I’m just living in the moment. I’m enjoying it all right now.
“Coming to this camp, I got to play with a lot of players that I never thought I’d be playing with, and they’re teaching me a different pace. So, it’s helping me a lot. It’s something I want to take back to my team. I’ve been talking to everybody, getting feedback from everyone on the team.”
The 6-5 Austin, who averaged 8.7 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Mystics, has been a sponge at the camp.
“I’m just trying to soak up as much knowledge as I can,” the former Mississippi standout said. “Just play hard. Play with energy. The vets, they continue to share little key pieces throughout it.
“I think it’s just a great opportunity. Not everyone in the (WNBA) gets invited to this. I’m just taking this as something that I can use to learn and to learn from the people who have been here and who have won gold. That’s a goal of mine.”
Austin focused on defense at the camp.
“Coming here, I feel like my role right now is just to try to come in and be that defensive energy like I had with the Mystics,” Austin said. “I feel like that’s just always something I can be consistent with.”
Boston, who led the South Carolina to the 2022 NCAA championship, is the youngest player vying for a roster spot. She will enter her senior year with the Gamecocks.
“It’s shown me (the) inside scoop of what the next level is like, and so I’m just really glad that I’m here to experience them,” Boston said. “It’s playing against women that have been in the league for years. And so being able to learn from them … it’s just a lot that I have taken note of.”
The World Cup runs Sept. 22-Oct 2. The final U.S. roster will be determined before the start of World Cup pool play. The Americans will be seeking their fourth straight gold medal.