We all envy 16- and 17-year-olds for how efficiently their bodies function. They eat everything, they sleep like proverbial logs, they recover from minor injuries almost instantaneously, and their bounceback time from a game is maybe an hour.
As I tell my high school players when they complain about wind sprints, “You’re in the prime of your life. You can complain when you get old.”
But even the most fit teen-age basketball players in the country, prime of their life or no, run into a wall at the USA Basketball team trials in Colorado Springs. The 6,000-foot altitude would be enough in itself (though some are almost unaffected), but the intensity and compressed schedule of the Under-17 and Under-18 trials inevitably lead to physical and mental fatigue, and some very sloppy basketball.
That was certainly the case Saturday night when the Under-17s had their last session, and though coveted spots on the 12-girl team that will go to the Netherlands in August were at stake, even dreams of playing for a world title couldn’t cut through the fog of exhaustion.
The Under-18s will run into that same wall Sunday night when they have their second straight day of double two-hour sessions, especially with coach Katie Meier (University of Miami) cramming in what seems like an entire season’s worth of sets into their tired brains and bodies.
Part of the problem Saturday, though, was that only four of the 26 U18 candidates had been at the trials before, and not only were they unfamiliar with the routine, they weren’t really prepared for the intensity and high-level competition. “It will be a lot better (Sunday),” said Candice Agee, a 6-4 Californian making her first trip to Colorado Springs. “We’ll be accustomed to it.”
That wasn’t an issue for the U17s, as all 12 of the players who won the FIBA Americas title last summer are back, plus many girls who tried out but didn’t make the team. And in addition, Diamond DeShields, who won a U18 world championship last year, is back with the U17s. (Most likely the reason for her “demotion” is that this year’s U18 group will be playing in the FIBA Americas competition, which is pretty much a walkover for the U.S., while the U17s will face much stiffer competition in Europe.)
All that experience, though, means that it’s going to be very hard to crack the roster, and that in turn means that a player is likely to have to dominate the court to make that big an impression. (By rule, there is no carryover from one year to the next, but in practice, international experience tends to be a big plus.)
The girl who stood out the most to me was Brianna Turner, a 6-4 rising junior from Texas, who improved dramatically from last year, and showed tremendous versatility at both ends of the floor. But even so, one of the 12 veterans is already ticketed to stay home because of the presence of DeShields, so it’s an uphill battle for Turner, and everyone else.
The situation is much more fluid for the U18s, as UConn recruits Moriah Jefferson and Breanna Stewart look like sure things, with 6-7 Imani Stafford right behind. In truth, though, the bottom 12 of this group would easily win the FIBA Americas, so the roster selection isn’t that crucial in terms of qualifying for the 2013 world championships.
But it is critical to the girls who are trying out, which is why they will be doing their absolute best to battle through the Sunday fatigue so they can cap their summer with a trip to Puerto Rico in August.
- U17 USA Basketball Trials: Observations and lessons learned
- Top Plays from 2012 U17 USA Basketball Trials
- Participants announced for USA Basketball’s 2012 women’s U17 World Championship Team Trials
- Rosters set for USA Basketball U18 National Team Trials