Aug. 5, 2014
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The USA Basketball Women's Under 18 team will begin play in the FIBA Americas Championship this week in Colorado Springs, Colo. Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper
was one of the coaches who assisted during the tryout camp for the squad in May.
Pemper and Furman head coach Jackie Carson served as court coaches for the 29-player camp. The head coach of the team is South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, and she is being assisted by Jeff Walz (head coach at Louisville), and Kim Barnes Arico (head coach at Michigan). Jim Foster (head coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga) chaired the USA Basketball Junior National Team Committee that also included Melanie Balcomb (head coach at Vanderbilt), Lindsay Gottlieb (head coach at California) and Joi Williams (head coach at Central Florida). ESPN's Kara Lawson served as the athlete representative to the committee.
The final roster includes players such as Recee Caldwell (freshman to be at UCLA), Brianna Turner (freshman to be at Notre Dame) and A'ja Wilson (freshman to be at South Carolina), each of whom have already won Gold Medals in various international events as members of previous USA Basketball teams. Three additional players who will be freshmen this fall -- Ariel Atkins, Texas; Paris Kea, Vanderbilt; Mariya Moore, Louisville -- and six rising high school seniors complete the 12-player roster.
Players eligible for this team must be U.S. citizens born on or after Jan. 1, 1996.
The championship runs Aug. 6-10 and features eight teams: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United States. The top-four teams will qualify for the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship.
Pemper discusses her USA Basketball experience below:
How were you selected to be a court coach?
How were the participants for the trials selected?
I got a call in March from the Women's National Team Director Carol Callan asking if I would volunteer. Carol has worked with USA Basketball since 1995 and knows a lot of people in our profession, some of which know me well. She planned to bring the Senior National Team to the Yard in September for training camp so I knew it would be nice to make that connection with her in May with the U18 group.
One thing I learned in Colorado is that Carol and her staff have one goal in mind and that's to find and develop the best basketball players in the USA to win gold medals in whatever events are held every summer. She solicits input from college coaches every year on who should be considered for the various trials, and she undoubtedly has multiple other sources including high school coaches. The youngest USA women's team is U16 so by the time invites go out for the U18 trials Carol has a great idea of the landscape of players in our country.
What was the process for selecting the FIBA Americas U18 Championship team?
There's a Junior National Team Committee which is currently comprised of four D-I head coaches and one athlete representative (Kara Lawson, a 2008 gold medalist). The committee came to every session and evaluated the players. The final afternoon they gave their list to Carol and she announced the team in front of the coaches, staff, players and parents.
What was your role at the trials?
We had two court sessions every day that consisted of warm-up drills, learning a few offensive sets, and scrimmaging. The committee wanted to see a lot of scrimmaging. I helped with drills then head coach Dawn Staley split the women into four teams and I coached a team. The other role of the court coach is to stay in the dorm and be a resource for the players if they need anything.
What was your favorite part of the trials?
The final session coaches Jeff Walz, Kim Barnes Arico, Jackie Carson and I, got to draft our own teams and coach them. The draft process over dinner the night before was hilarious and just having a vision for specific players was fun. The next morning I pulled a few of them aside and shared the vision and everyone was excited to compete in a little different way the final morning. Four of the players I drafted ended up making the team so I teased the other coaches about that.
What did you learn about USA Basketball from being a court coach?
Going in I knew Carol was first-class and it was inspiring to see her go about her work. She's an excellent communicator, very professional and focused, and it's clear she loves what she does. USA Basketball is full of integrity. I'm sure in the early years there were some kinks to work out regarding the process of selecting teams but they have it figured out now and I have the highest respect for the decisions their committees make. On most basketball teams at any level the top 8-9 players are easy to pick and the remaining players bring specific things to the table to be considered. Choosing 10-12 couldn't have been easy for the committee and I thought they did a great job.
What was it like working with three-time Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley?
Dawn is so humble and inclusive that it feels strange to say it was a highlight of my career but it was. I really enjoyed seeing her style with the players, getting insight on why she's so successful as a leader. We are the same age so I followed her playing career and really liked her toughness as a point guard. I have utmost respect for what she's done as the coach at Temple and South Carolina. Dawn is in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and she carried the American flag in the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics. There aren't a lot of women in our profession succeeding at the level she is. I hope she wins a national championship someday.
Do you expect the team to win gold when the Championship begins this week?
I do. The team has everything you could want in a team including experience in international competition. Dawn and her staff will have them focused, confident and hungry.