It's going to be a very busy weekend in Colorado Springs, Colo., as 61 of the best young female basketball players in the country will gather at the United States Olympic Training Center to try out for two teams that will represent the U.S. in FIBA competitions this summer.
Twenty-six players are vying for 12 spots on the Under-19 team, which will undoubtedly roll through the overmatched competition at the FIBA Americas tournament in Puerto Rico from Aug. 15-19. The remaining 35 will chase a roster spot for the Under-17 World Championships in the Netherlands Aug. 17-26.
The younger group will begin tryouts Thursday with the team being announced Sunday, while the U18s won't arrive until Friday, with team selection coming Monday.
Of course, even though all the candidates are supposed to be created equal, it would be a surprise if four players who are ready to graduate from the prep ranks – all of whom have won gold medals for the U.S. in international competition already – didn't make the U18 team. Breanna Stewart
(committed to UConn), Bashaara Graves
(Tennessee), Morgan Tuck
(UConn) and Imani Stafford
(Texas) should plan on a trip to Puerto Rico, though Stafford didn't play in her high school team's postseason.
Other top contenders among upcoming graduates are Moriah Jefferson
(UConn), Alexis Prince
(Baylor), Courtney Williams
(Texas A&M) and rising 2013 seniors Kelsey Plum
of La Jolla Country Day (La Jolla, Calif.)
and Kailee Johnson
of Central Catholic (Portland, Ore.)
Katie Meier of the University of Miami is the head coach, and she will run two practice sessions for the team prior to the trip to Puerto Rico. The U.S. has won the last five gold medals in the competition and has an all-time record of 38-2 (both losses in the gold medal games), and is expected to dominate once again – especially given the wealth of talent and previous international experience on hand this weekend.
Though the Under-17 team will have a tougher time at the World Championships in Europe, coach Jill Rankin Schneider Monterey (Lubbock, Texas)
will have the luxury of even more gold-medal winners than Meier – and in fact, Diamond DeShields
of Norcross (Norcross, Ga.)
has won two.
All 12 members of the 2011 USA U16 National Team - Recee' Caldwell (Johnson (San Antonio, Texas)
, Jordin Canada (Windward (Los Angeles, Calif.)
, Kaela Davis (Buford, Ga.)
, Becca Greenwell
(Owensboro Catholic (Owensboro, Ky.)
, Linnae Harper (Whitney Young (Chicago, Ill.)
, Stephanie Mavunga (Brownsburg, Ind.)
, Erica McCall (Ridgeview (Bakersfield, Calif.)
, Taya Reimer (Hamilton Southeastern (Fishers, Ind.)
, Mercedes Russell (Springfield, Ore.)
, Jannah Tucker (New Town (Owings Mills, Md.)
, Sydney Umeri (Lovett (Atlanta, Ga.)
, and Jatarie White (Providence Day (Charlotte, N.C.)
– will be in Colorado Springs. That will make it very tough for the remaining 22 candidates to crack the top 12.
Nonetheless, talented players such as Gabby Green (Salesian, Calif.), the last cut from the 2011 U16 team, 6-foot-4 Brianna Turner (Manvel, Texas)
and Lindsay Allen (St. John's (Washington, District of Columbia)
are going to push hard for roster spots, and with DeShields dropping down to the U17s from the older group, at least one gold medal winner will be spending August at home.
This is only the second time FIBA has held an Under-17 World Championship, and the U.S. swept to gold in the inaugural edition – and a similar outcome is anticipated this time around. After all, the U.S. has a 134-6 overall record in FIBA competition since 2008, and this team will acclimate itself to European basketball by playing in a three-game exhibition series in Italy from Aug. 10-12.
In some ways, then, these youth basketball trials are as much about where players rank in the American pecking order as they are about the international level. Even the best AAU tournaments don't have the depth of talent that will be on display in Colorado Springs. And with the chance to represent the U.S. internationally at stake, there's plenty of motivation – and plenty of intensity.
In fact, some the of the scrimmages this weekend will be more competitive than some of the FIBA games this summer, so observers will see the best of many future college and WNBA stars.