U16 Trials Participants Relish Rare Opportunity
With the 2011 USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team Trials beginning today, 120 young women arrived at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., with the chance to compete for a spot on the final 12-member roster that will represent the USA in the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship.
The 120 participants is a record number for the age group, coming in large part to the fact that a new process was instated this year for an age group that debuted in 2009. In addition to the 34 invitees, players from around the country were able to register to participate in the trials, as well.
On May 30, the roster will be cut down to just 12 members that will train and compete for the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, which takes place June 13-18 in Mérida, Mexico.
The team will be selected by the USA Basketball Women's Developmental National Team Committee and will be coached by four-time USA Basketball gold medalist and Women's Basketball Hall of Fame member, Jill Rankin Schneider of Monterey High School in Lubbock, Texas. Assistant coaches are Gail Hook (Monarch H.S./Louisville, Colo.) and Letitia Hughley (Mott Community College and Flint Northern H.S./Flint, Mich.). Tina Camacho (Wagner H.S., Texas), Dori Oldaker (Mt. Lebanon H.S., Pa.), Kira Orr (Bullis School, Md.) and Anthony Smith (Bolingbrook H.S., Ill.) will serve as court coaches during trials.
“I’m excited to be at the Olympic Training Center with all of these great players,” said Brianna Turner (Westbury Christian School/Pearland, Texas), a rising sophomore. “Trying out for the team is just a huge honor.”
|The 2011 USA Basketball Women's U16 National Team Trials got underway today at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. After checking in, taking head shots, getting the lay of the land and going through a USA Basketball Orientation Session, the 120 athletes were split into two groups for the skills sessions. While one group was going through footwork, passing and shooting drills, the other group attended a Maximum Performance seminar featuring 1980 U.S. Olympic Team member and USA U16 head coach Jill Rankin Schneider and multiple Paralympian Allison Jones, who competes in both cycling and skiing. Midway through the three-hour session, the groups swapped places.|
For nearly all of the girls, this week marks their first time competing for a USA Basketball team, meaning their first time participating in a competition of this scale.
“I’m just excited to be here,” said Maggie O’Connor (Lee County H.S./Albany, Ga.), who will be a sophomore in the fall. “It’s a big deal because I’ve never done anything like this. Learning from the best will be an amazing experience, so I’m excited.”
With the excitement of something new, though, comes uncertainty.
“I know absolutely nothing,” O’Connor said. “I don’t know what to expect at all.”
In order to learn the process, many girls leaned on the expertise of coaches or former teammates who have competed with USA Basketball in the past.
“I talked with Lea Henry,” O’Connor added. “She was on the Olympic team (1984 gold medalist). She helped me out a lot doing one-on-one workouts for awhile.”
Stephanie Mavunga (Brownsburg H.S./Indianapolis, Ind.), a 6-3 junior guard, also relied on those with USA Basketball expertise.
“I talked with former coaches who have coached here before and some people who work for the organization,” Mavunga said. “They’ve all been very helpful to me.”
Still, others went outside of just coaches and players.
“My mom and I called around and researched a lot,” Turner said. “We called people, read about things, even searched Google for things like the altitude difference. Here, on the court I’m going to have to push myself harder.”
While the training may be different from athlete to athlete, one thing remains the same: They’re all competing for the same goal.
“I’m just excited to be competing for a spot on the U.S. national team with the best players from all across the nation,” said soon-to-be sophomore Courtney Ekmark (St. Mary’s Catholic H.S./Phoenix, Ariz.). “I’m just going to stick to my game and try and prove that I can be a member of this team.
“It’s a huge honor,” Ekmark continued. “It would be so amazing to play for the USA. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and my family and I are just really excited that I have the opportunity to be here.”
While the competitors are still young, they realize the magnitude of this opportunity, and that this is the first step toward reaching many of their ultimate goals.
“I realize what it means to put on the USA red, white and blue,” guard Taylor Rooks (Nichols School/Clarence, N.Y.) said. “Playing for USA Basketball will develop my game in so many ways and turn me into the player I want to be. I’ve always wanted to be walking down the streets and hear someone say, ‘Hey, that’s Taylor Rooks from Team USA.’”