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Friday, July 19, 2019

U.S. Teens Kick Off Quest for FIBA Americas Gold

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Photo Caption: U.S. head coach Barbara Nelson (Wingate University head coach) heads the American team of 16-year olds-and-under, including (from left) standouts Justine Hartman, Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, as they head into the 2009 FIBA Americas Women’s U16 Championships today in Mexico City.

Photo Credit: All Photos Courtesy USA Basketball

By Lee Michaelson

USA Basketball’s sixteen-and-under (U16) national team kicks off its quest for gold today at the 2009 FIBA Americas U16 Women’s Championships being held in Mexico City. The top three teams in the tournament will earn a berth in next year’s inaugural FIBA U17 Women’s World Championships.

The team of talented teens is guided by Coach Barbara Nelson, head coach at Wingate University, a member of NCAA Division II’s South-Atlantic Conference. In her two seasons at Wingate, Nelson has led the Bulldogs to an overall 44-18 record; last season, Wingate went 26-8, taking the South-Atlantic Conference title, a spot in the Division II Elite Eight, and a Number 10 national ranking in Division II. Prior to her arrival at Wingate, Nelson spent 21 years as the head coach of Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina, where her teams took seven state championships in the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association and Nelson herself was honored four times as the Charlotte Observor’s Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year.

Nelson is assisted by Mike Armstrong of Perry Meridian High School, Indiana, and Doreena Bingham of Team Alaska AAU.

Coach Nelson was gracious enough to take time out from her preparations for the tournament to respond to questions from Full Court about how she prepares her team for a tournament such as this, where so little scouting information on the opposition is readily available. Team USA players Breanna Stewart (Cicero-North Syracuse High School, Syracuse, New York) and Justine Hartman (Brea Olinda High School, Brea, California) also shared their thoughts on their first time representing the United States in international competition.

“We haven’t been able to do any scouting at all,” acknowledged Coach Nelson, when asked what she knew about the team from the Dominican Republic, whom the U.S. faces in its opening game of the tournament Monday. “We scrimmaged Brazil, so we have scouted them, but they are not in our pool [Pool B of the tournament]. We will go over tomorrow and scout Puerto Rico and Argentina, the two other teams in our pool.”

Faced with this lack of knowledge of the opposition, Nelson said she prepares her players, “the same way you prepare for any tournament—making sure they have an idea of what they are going to see and have a way to attack everything, both offensively and defensively.”

Nelson was frank in sizing up the strengths and potential weaknesses of her own team. “Our greatest strength is our defensive ability when we play together as a team,” she stated. “We are very long and very athletic, so we can really disrupt what the other team wants to do. That leads into us being able to fastbreak and wear out other teams because we are very deep.”

On the other hand, “I would say our biggest weakness is learning how to play intensely the entire time and not take plays off,” said Nelson.

Nelson said her focus in practice has been defense, “because we felt like we were not committed to that, and they have made great strides in playing team defense and individual defense.”

In addition, as might be expected of a team of high school students drawn from all over the country and with relatively little time to prepare for so major a tournament, developing teamwork has also been an area of focus.

“The ... commitment for us has been learning to share the ball and play team offense. They are getting so much better at that,” said Nelson.

Breanna Stewart, a 6-3 incoming sophomore at Cicero-North Syracuse High, brings an impressive resume to her role as a forward/center on the team. As a freshman, she averaged 17 points, 9.3 rebounds, and seven blocks per game in the course of helping her high school team reach the regional finals. She was named MVP of the 2009 Section III tournament and was tapped as a member of the All-Section III first team. Stewart played for the AAU’s Philadelphia Belles this summer.

Stewart photoPhoto Caption: Breanna Stewart
Position: Forward/Center
Height: 6-3
School: Cicero-North Syracuse High School (2012)
Hometown: Syracuse, New York

“It’s different than playing AAU basketball or high school basketball,” said Stewart of her first experience representing the United States in international competition. “It feels exciting and fun at the same time because we are playing against other countries.”

Stewart said the experience of training with these other top players has been “more competitive because you are always playing good players. It helps you get better.”

One thing Stewart, who considers herself a good defender, said she’s learned this summer is not to over-think her game. “I have learned that I just have to play basketball and not really think about it, and then I play better. My last AAU tournament, I didn’t play so great. When I thought it over, I realized that I was thinking way too much. When I got to USA training camp, I tried not to think about it as much, and it helped.”

Her advice to younger players hoping to make the U.S. team some day: “Don’t let good enough be good enough. Keep playing and practicing basketball if you like it. If you don’t like it, then don’t play.”

USA Basketball teammate Justine Hartman, a 6-2 forward and incoming junior at Brea Olinda High who hopes one day to become a lawyer, is “excited and grateful” to have the opportunity to represent the U.S. in this tournament. Last season Hartman averaged 14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game in helping her team to a 33-2 record and the California Division II state title and a Number 3 national ranking by USA Today. Hartman was selected to the 2009 Cal Hi Sports All-State Sophomore Team and to the All-Orange County first team.”

Hartman PhotoPhoto Caption: Justine Hartman
Position: Forward
Height: 6-2
School: Brea Olinda High School (2011)
Hometown: Brea, California

She said training with some of the nation’s elite high school players on Team USA has “definitely been fun because you get to be with the best-of-the-best in our age group, and it really pushes you. You know that you can’t just coast because you are better. I have played with other teams that aren’t as challenging and don’t push you.”

“I have learned that there is a whole other level out there,” she added. “It’s not just high school basketball, and you have to keep working hard and getting better.”

Hartman said she doesn’t know if she has a specific role on the team; she just wants to “go out there and play hard and get a gold medal for our country.”

That, in a nutshell, is the advice she would give to younger players hoping to play for the U.S. team one day. “Work really hard,” said Hartman, “and if you really do work hard, you will be rewarded. And this is a really big opportunity, so keep going for it.”

Hartman was in Mexico once previously when she was younger, “but I don’t really remember it. I can’t compare the experiences since I don’t remember being here when I was younger, but it’s different. It’s cool being in a different place and just getting a different a experience.”

This is the first time Stewart has been abroad, and she, too, is enjoying the experience.

“It’s been different,” said Stewart, “but it’s been fun and a learning experience, with the Mexican food and stuff. There is a McDonald’s but not easily accessible. We went to a market and then out to dinner today. It was my first time bargaining with people. At home, you just pay what it costs. I wasn’t used to bargaining.”

Originally published Mon, August 10, 2009

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