Tired, but ready for Nike Nationals
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Forgive Elizabeth Williams if she looked a little out of it in the opening round of Nike Nationals on Wednesday, but the 6-foot-3 post player from Boo Williams spent Tuesday night walking around Wal-Mart, willing herself to not fall asleep standing up.
"I have crazy jet lag," Williams said rolling her eyes. "We're just running on adrenaline."
So it goes for Williams and her teammates from the U17 national team, many of whom flew directly from France -- where they beat the host country to win the gold medal -- to Augusta to join their club teams.
For most of July, the summer circuit was missing the top tier prospects, as the national team gathered early in the month for practice before going overseas for some friendly matches. The result was a bunch of club teams filling in for their missing superstars by committee: West Coast Premier, for example, made up for the absence of 2012 superstar Jordan Adams with improved play from Lauren Holiday and Ahjalee Harvey.
But now, Adams and the rest of the gang are back, all in search of the championship crown at Nike Nationals, the premier event of the summer. So what's the consensus after day one?
"We just had a meeting and agreed, we're all playing so bad!" cried Adams with a laugh. " We're all shooting over the rim, we're overextending on lay-ins because the lane is a different size, and it's definitely weird."
Per usual, the best of the best is being a little too hard on themselves. With the exception of Betnijah Laney (2011) and the New York Gauchos, each of the national team members helped lead their club team to one or two pool play wins on Wednesday, though it took a while to get warmed up.
Williams, the top prospect in the 2011 class, and Cierra Burdick, the No. 4 prospect, flew home before moving on to Augusta to join Boo Williams, and were promptly reminded of how Americans play basketball: With lots of fouls.
"When we were in France, you could two-hand push someone through the key and they wouldn't call anything," Williams said. "But here, if you even touch someone they call it."
Burdick said one of the biggest adjustments will be the raised expectations of individual play. The USA won handily in France because they were so deep at every position but now that they're split up, each is expected to carry a heavier load for her respective club team.
"Our roles change," said Burdick, who noted that the lack of practice with her team has lead to some rustiness, but said she's confident that she, and Williams, will figure it out after a couple more games.
"Obviously the teams that have been playing together all summer without losing any players to the national team are going to have a little bit of an advantage but once we play two or three games we'll get the plays down," she said.
As for all their lack of sleep -- Burdick said early Wednesday she felt like she was going to "have a sugar crash" that night, but the national team players do have one advantage. Because FIBA courts are longer, running the floor at Nike Nationals feels quick and easy.
"I feel like I can keep going, like I could run forever," said Breanna Stewart, a 2012 standout on the Philly Belles.
"I don't get tired," added 2011 prospect Bria Smith, Stewart's teammate.
That, you can bet, is something every coach loves to hear.
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Lindsay Schnell is a staff writer for HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Oregon State University, she has been involved in the Oregon girls' basketball community for most her life as a player, high school coach, writer and fan. She also has been regular contributor to The Oregonian and won several awards for her writing. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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