Ariel Massengale is Ready to Compete
July 20, 2011 • Puerto Montt, Chile
Two-time USA Basketball gold medalist Ariel Massengale is currently training with the 2011 USA U19 World Championship Team in Puerto Montt, Chile, during the team’s final preparations for the July 21-31 FIBA U19 Worlds. The U.S. is the three-time defending champ at this age-based event and Massengale wants to make it four golds in a row.
If anyone knows how to win, it’s Massengale. The two-time Illinois Class 4A state champion as the floor general for Bolingbrook High School, she is a perfect 13-0 in official FIBA / FIBA Americas events after having led the USA to gold at the 2009 FIBA Americas U16 Championship and 2010 FIBA U17 World Championship. At the U17 Worlds, she not only averaged 10.1 ppg., Massengale led the tournament with a 5.4 assist per game average. The lightning-quick guard had eight steals In the USA’s two scrimmages in Chile against Australia and Russia and should figure heavily in the USA’s defensive plans.
“When we played Russia it was the first time we actually played in a couple days after all that travel,” stated Massengale. “Just to get back on the court was good. I feel like we were a little rusty coming out, but I feel that that was progress compared to playing Brazil in Orlando (on June 5).”
Before they could start playing, the USA had to get to Chile. Traveling from the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., to the hotel in Puerto Montt, Chile, took about 25 hours. However, there was not a single complaint from Massengale or her teammates.
Massengale and the USA team bussed to Denver from Colorado Springs, got delayed to Dallas and had to bolt through the airport to make the flight to Santiago. Once in Santiago, the squad went through customs and immigration, got their bags and transferred to their domestic flight to Puerto Montt, barely making the final connection.
“Whew! It was an adventure and it was exhausting, the long flight all night, the food and adjusting to the time,” she said. “Being away from home, not having you cell phone, is the hardest thing, because we live with those. Being here, it gives us the chance to enjoy the other parts of life like getting to know each other better and being able to communicate with each other.”
Since landing, the team has practiced three times for an hour at a time and won a pair of scrimmages against Australia and Russia. During their off time, the players have been attempting to connect to the hotel’s wi-fi, attempted to speak Italian and French to those teams and got Australia and Italy to connect on one giant wave in the dining hall.
It’s been relaxing off the court for the team, but Massengale and the rest of her team are itching to take the court against Japan on July 21 (1:30 p.m. EDT). USABasketball.com sat down with the 2011 Naismith High School Player of the Year finalist prior to the team’s final practice.
How much has this team improved since you gathered in Orlando on June 1?
I think we’ve improved tremendously. Our team chemistry is getting better overall. I feel like now that we’re in Chile, we understand that we’re playing for a gold medal and it’s not just us thinking about practice, practice, practice, but we have some games coming up. We came out here for one goal and we’re trying to accomplish that.
What’s the key to winning the gold?
Defense. I think we can put points on the board with anybody out here, but we need to get stops. That’s going to be the main thing in us winning a gold medal.
The USA is the three-time defending champion at this event, do you feel more pressure with that bulls eye on your back?
It is. Every time you put on that USA jersey, it’s a bulls eye. So, to have that target on us, it just lets us know that we have to come out there every night and bring our A game, play hard and always be on top of our game.
Does it help having your high school teammate, Morgan Tuck, playing with you?
It does. Morgan and I have been playing together since I was in the fifth grade and she was in the fourth grade. We pretty much grew up together. So, being able to travel with her and have these kinds of experiences with her, then be able to go home and take this back to our high school team, which she can do this year, and then go onto the next level, it’s just a lot of fun.
You’re also playing here alongside Cierra Burdick, one of your future teammates at the University of Tennessee. How much will that help you once you start practicing in the fall?
It’ll help a lot as well, being roommates and teammates, getting to know each other, getting to know each other’s tendencies and how we are on and off the court. Being able to learn about each other, that’s just going to get better in the next four years at Tennessee.
Does it also help to be playing for college coaches right now, does it help prepare you for what a college practice will be like?
Yeah, I think it will. Training in Colorado is always the hardest part. Getting used to the terminology the college coaches use, knowing what’s expected of you, how detailed it is, compared to high school. It’s good and it’s getting me ready for the next level.
How’s the team chemistry coming along?
It’s coming along great. I feel that overseas we have a lot more down time. In Colorado we had a lot more practices and then we’re sleeping during our free time. Here, we have a lot of down time. We can engage and get to know each other, which makes us better on the court.
What was the travel day like, going from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Puerto Montt, Chile?
Whew! It was an adventure and it was exhausting, the long flight all night, the food and adjusting to the time. Being away from home, not having you cell phone, is the hardest thing, because we live with those. Being here, it gives us the chance to enjoy the other parts of life like getting to know each other better and being able to communicate with each other.
Then getting down here, seeing the other teams, what they look like, what they have, what we have, and just being away from home, the different food, different atmosphere, the cold weather. We left Colorado Springs, where it was 90 degrees and then to come here where it’s winter. I’d say our team motto is getting over adversity. We faced it in our first scrimmage (against Russia) when the lights went out, playing in the cold weather we’re facing every day. We’re just pushing through it all, knowing that we’re here to go out and try to win a gold medal.
Have you been sizing up the other teams?
Yes, we have. After we saw France, that is a totally different team that what we saw last year at the U17s. It’s going to be difficult, but this is what we play for.
You’ve played against two teams now, Australia and Russia, what was it like to finally go up against another team?
It was fun. It was the first time we saw a different team, a different jersey. When we played Russia it was the first time we actually played in a couple days after all that travel. Just to get back on the court was good. I feel like we were a little rusty coming out, but I feel that that was progress compared to playing Brazil in Orlando (on June 5).
What are you doing off the court here?
We do a little bit of everything. We try to find some wi-fi. We listen to music, talk. C (Cierra Burdick) and Stefanie (Dolson) were looking up YouTube videos and singing like Karaoke, playing cards. We’re just being average kids. I think sometimes people forget that we’re the average 17- 18-year-old girl. We just like to hang out, be goofy, be silly and we all get along great with each other.
What do you need to work on during the team’s final practice?
Defense. We need to communicate more getting through screens. The international play for other countries is a lot different than what we’re used to seeing in America. So, just knowing that defense comes first, that’s going to win the ball game for us.