For the group of 27 high school freshmen and sophomores selected to try out at the 2009 women's U16 national team trials the invitation is a chance to make history. Of the list of invitees, just 12 will be named to the national team and have a chance to compete in the inaugural FIBA Americas U16 Championship.
This used to be the time of year that USA Basketball would be hosting its Youth Development Festival, for which approximately 30 high school-aged players were selected to work out and play at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Everyone would have a chance to prove they should be invited back the following year for the U17 World Championships. However, with the new format not only is a spot on the roster up for grabs May 28 to May 31, but with it the fate of next year's U17 team as well.
How the U16 national team fares in the FIBA Americas U16 Championships later this summer will impact if the U.S. will qualify for next year's World Championships, which is a lot of pressure for the 14 sophomores and 13 freshmen invited to the trials. The top three finishers in the tournament will qualify for the 2010 FIBA U17 World Championships.
The dates and location of the FIBA Americas tournament this summer have not been decided, though it was initially scheduled for June, first in Buenos Aires, Argentina, then Mexico City, before being postponed until August.
On Thursday, USA Basketball released the 27 players invited to the trials. The 12-member team selected by the Women's Developmental Committee will be announced on May 31, after the final scrimmages that morning.
USA Basketball U16 Trial Invitees
Players eligible for competition must be U.S. citizens born on or after Jan. 1, 1993.
In addition to competing for the 12 roster spots, the invitees will be competing with the altitude (6,035 feet) and a 24-second shot clock. Very few states in the U.S. use a shot clock and those that do typically have 30 seconds. Competition at each position should be compelling.
Vying for the point guard positions are a mix of players big and small. From the quick and shifty Ariel Massengale at 5-foot-6 to the tall, long Jordan Adams and Courtney Williams at 6-foot and 6-1, respectively; talent at the point guard position is bountiful. Joining those extremes in terms of size are a trio of 5-8 players; Briyona Canty, Andraya Carter and Alexia Standish. The big guards may have a bit of a leg up on their smaller counterparts because they will have the size and athleticism to compete for time at all three perimeter positions.
At shooting guard, there is plenty of explosiveness but no pure shooters. Jewell Loyd is coming off a fantastic showing at the Nike Regional Skills Academy in Indianapolis, but to be fair Alexis Jones and Bria Smith are in regions that are yet to host the Skills Academy. One of the bigger shooting guards (5-10) is Loliya Briggs and she excels on the defensive end of the floor. Joining those four are Jasmine Camp, a 5-7 combo guard and Moriah Jefferson from Texas.
Scorers of all shapes and sizes will compete for the wing spots. From the long and explosive Cierra Burdick to the sharpshooting Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis to the record-breaking scoring exploits of Betnijah Laney. The competition at the 3 may be as fierce as any other spot on the floor. Joining those three are Whitney Knight, Breanna McDonald and Alexis Prince. In years past, the selection committee has had an affinity for shot-makers and 3-point shooters and that should be the same for this younger group as international teams often utilize zone defenses to slow down more athletic teams.
None of the frontcourt players invited classified themselves as post players or centers. Whether you call them forwards or anything else, there is a great mix of finesse and power players. Rachel Hollivay and Malina Howard are the two tallest players on the roster at 6-4 and right behind them at 6-3 are Kiah Stokes and Elizabeth Williams. All four of those players are listed at 180 pounds and up, so being strong with the ball in the lane is going to be a must. Justine Hartman may not be as tall as the aforementioned players, but her combination of footwork and strength will allow her to compete for time at both interior positions.
There are also a host of players in the 6-1 to 6-2 range with great versatility. Kayla Brewer, Bashaara Graves, Morgan Tuck and Alexyz Vaioletama will surprise a lot of people with their effectiveness with their backs to the basket. Showing some perimeter skills could be a major edge for players vying for time at the power forward position because versatility is so valued at any level.
As the Olympic men's teams have proven, assembling the best players doesn't necessarily lead to international success. Finding a mix of 12 players to represent the nation this summer is a daunting task that will span four training sessions in two days, followed by three scrimmage game sessions during the final two days of the trials.
USA Basketball has named the coaching staff for the U16 national team as well. Wingate University head coach Barb Nelson will assume the same role as head of the national team. She will be joined on the bench by Mike Armstrong of Perry Meridian High School in Indiana as well as Dorena Bingham of the Team Alaska club basketball program.
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Chris Hansen is the National Director of Prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college-basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a Communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high-school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org