Commentary

Understanding the national team trials

Updated: June 1, 2011, 4:42 PM ET
By Mark Lewis | HoopGurlz

HayesGlenn Nelson/ESPN.com For prospects such as Kelli Hayes of San Jose, Calif., participating in USA Basketball U16 trials provided a bigger boost to her game than her recruiting fortunes.

When USA Basketball added a U16 age group two years ago, it added a new dynamic to the collegiate recruiting calendar and process. Before, those scholastic athletes who were invited to the trials were elite, established players who hardly needed any extra attention from college recruiters.

This year the more than 120 participants in the U16 trials and seven of the hopefuls for the U19 team were part of the 2012 class or younger and have yet to sign National Letters of Intent. Many have made verbal commitments but until November's initial signing date, by definition, remain recruitable student athletes.

In reality, participation in the trials or actually making one of the national teams will have little, if any, bearing on the actual interest a prospect receives. Even with the addition of this year's applicants for the U16 trials, all of the athletes taking part already are established to varying degrees among college recruiters. Odds are that wearing red, white and blue will not translate into the school colors of a university that has not already been actively recruiting a prospect. Coaches ultimately are going make their recruiting decisions based on past evaluations, their needs and preferences as well as the philosophical infrastructure of their program.

Division I coaches were not able to observe any of the U16 trials nor can attend the FIBA Americas competition this June in Mérida, Mexico. Neither the trials nor the tournament fall within an evaluation or contact period, which are the only two permissible opportunities for off-campus recruiting under NCAA guidelines. Nobody's going to be blindly putting scholarship offers on the table based on an athlete simply making a roster or from press releases and media coverage.

The U19 trials were outside any observation window as well. However, an exemption to the certification process and the recruiting calendar for international championship events will allow college coaches to travel to the U19 World Championship competition in Chile. Seven underclassman are among the finalists for the national team and, with only three more players to be cut, it's pretty much guaranteed that there will be some recruiters breaking out their passports and brushing up on their Spanish to do some courtside babysitting in South America.

Taking part in any aspect of USA Basketball mostly will help an athlete on the floor. Training and competing in an intense, structured environment with and against top-tier talent only can lead to advancements in your game. Whether you agree with the semi-open door policy to this year's U16 trials there are still few individual or team events that can bring together that much depth of talent to one location. Surprisingly, the first day and a half featured some ultra-elementary skill work more reminiscent of a camp setting than a national team selection process. Other than financial limitations it's hard to imagine any other reason for an athlete to pass on opportunity to play in such a formidable setting, let alone for the possibility of making a USA roster. There aren't too many truly competitive players who wouldn't want to test themselves against the best in their age group with so much on the line.

Most highly recruited athletes seldom have practices where they're challenged in each drill or on every play of a scrimmage. For a lot of them, this kind of situation may be their first experience not being the best player on the floor or having to fight for opportunities and minutes. And for most of those not making a roster this will be their first time getting cut. It's humbling, difficult to swallow and at the same time has the potential to turn into something positive and motivating in the long term. Pride, confidence and work ethic all can make giant leaps out of a disappointing situation if the player can be objective about their game and experience at the trials.

There are some downsides. As with any time you step on the floor you always run the risk of injury. This year's U16 group all should be back on club the trail in July in front of college coaches. A serious injury could limit their play during the evaluation period but the idea of someone choosing not to play for that reason might be perceived as a greater negative in the bigger scheme of things. If word got out that someone was difficult to coach or was a bad teammate there could be closer scrutiny by recruiters. College coaches won't drop prospects based on rumors and innuendo alone but they'll to do their own homework and don't think they won't be calling the USA coaching staff for some additional insight.

Unfortunately representing your country on the basketball floor doesn't automatically increase your stock in the recruiting market. It's an honor for the athlete to participate and college sports information directors love adding it to the media guide, but participation itself doesn't make you a better prospect. Only an athlete's play can do that and it doesn't matter what the front of their jersey says.

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Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at mark@hoopgurlz.com.

one dimensional threat. Her movement on both ends of the floor is fluid and efficient. Defensively Samuelson anticipates well and is active on and off the ball. Keep watching, the third time's already a charm.

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Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at mark@hoopgurlz.com.

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Women's College Basketball Recruiting
Mark Lewis is a columnist and national evaluator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Womenís Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State.