If your wondering where to go this summer to watch the top recruits in the 2014 class play, the answer is Lithuania.
That's right, you won't see No. 1 Brianna Turner, No. 2 A’ja Wilson or No. 8 Gabby Green at Nike Nationals, End of the Trail or Basketball on the Bayou. Instead, they will spend the entire month of July as members of USA Basketball’s U19 National Team as it attempts to win the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship. The trio officially reported to training camp today in Colorado Springs and will basically disappear from the summer circuit -- though college coaches will still be more than happy to sign any one of the group sight unseen.
Traditionally, the U19 Team has been comprised of the best rising college freshmen and sophomores in the country and in the past, a few younger players (such as Diamond DeShields and Breanna Stewart) have been fortunate enough to played up, but three 16-year-olds on one roster is very unusual.
For Turner, who committed to Notre Dame in May, this will be her third tour of duty with Team USA. Last year she won gold as the youngest player on the U17 World Championship Team and then anchored the inside game for the USA 3x3 Team, which won gold at the U18 FIBA World Championship. She says both of those previous experiences helped her make the U19 roster.
“I definitely learned how to pack for a month under 50 pounds,” says Turner with a laugh. “I didn’t go in (to trials) as nervous. I’ve done it before, so I know what to expect now, versus not knowing at all.”
Turner, who led Manvel High School in Texas to a 33-4 record and averaged 20.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.5 steals, 3.5 blocks and 2.7 assists per game says the playing experience with the U19 team will be invaluable. “I want to learn from the older players on the team. I really like Morgan Tuck -- I talked to her a lot at the trials and she tried to help me out and gave me good advice.”
A'Ja Wilson gets instruction from U19 head coach Katie Meier. (Photo courtesy Steven Maikoski/USA Basketball)
Advice might be something A’ja could use since this is her first experience playing USA Basketball.
“It’s all really, really exciting”, said Wilson, who averaged 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds, 5 blocks, 3.2 assists and 3 steals per game for Heathwood Hall in Columbia, S.C. “It’s an honor to be playing with these girls -- some of them already won a national championship, and now we are teammates.”
She says Connecticut’s Breanna Stewart, who was named the MVP of the 2013 Women’s Final Four, is the teammate she was most excited to meet. “She is my role model, so just to play with her and be out on the same court as her, it was amazing,” said Wilson. “We are so similar in the style that we play, and just to guard someone who is like you is a lot of fun. I enjoyed it.”
USA Trials was also an opportunity for Turner and Wilson to meet for the first time. The two are widely considered the top players in the 2014 class, and are No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in the Full Court Fresh 50 Player Rankings.
“It was a pretty good feeling to meet Brianna Turner,” said Wilson. “I’ve always heard about her, but I’ve never gotten to meet her and now we are going to be teammates. I think that’s going to be really good.”
Many people where excited for a possible head-to-head matchup between Turner and Wilson at this summer's Basketball on the Bayou, but for now, the only competition will be in practice where Turner says Wilson has already won her respect.
“It was good to go against her,” said Turner about Wilson. “It was good to go against another tall player who’s my position, in my class. I don’t get the opportunity that much because there aren’t that many tall players in my class in Texas.”
Also on hold for Wilson is the recruiting process. “This was supposed to be the month that I got with my parents and started narrowing it down, but USA has really pushed it back a little,” said Wilson, who is being heavily recruited by North Carolina, South Carolina, Connecticut, Tennessee and a host of top BCS schools. “Nothing has really changed -- I’m still going to take all my officials starting in August. I’m really just enjoying the process. Now coaches can call me and I’m really enjoying just talking to them.”
Meanwhile, Gabby Green rounds out the trio of 2014 players on the U19 roster, for her, the third time was the charm with USA basketball. She was invited to both the 2011 U16 trials and the 2012 U17 trials and didn't make the cut, so making the U19 squad was extra special.
“It was really shocking and I was really excited to hear my name called after being cut the first two years,” said Williams. “I feel like making it with the U19 group is bigger than making it with my own age group.”
Green averaged 16.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 4.2 steals and 3.9 assists per game for St. Mary’s in Berkeley, Calif.. She’s also putting official visits on hold until August, but says she is currently being recruited by Tennessee, Baylor, Cal, USC, Washington, Penn State and Rutgers.