UConn signees headline U18 roster

Updated: May 21, 2012, 5:41 PM ET
By Glenn Nelson | HoopGurlz

JeffersonGlenn Nelson/ESPN.comOne of three Connecticut signees to make the U18 national team, Moriah Jefferson of Glenn Heights, Texas, made her third try a charm.

With seven international newbies, USA Basketball perhaps did not directly emphasize continuity with its U18 national team selections, but it did include the most experienced player available in Breanna Stewart.

At 17, Stewart, the Connecticut-bound forward from North Syracuse, N.Y., was named to her fifth national team on Monday morning. The reigning USA Basketball Female Player of the Year, as well as the consensus national high school girls' basketball player of the year, Stewart has won world championship gold with the U19 and U17 teams and an Americas gold with the U16 team, and last summer she was only the second prep player ever to play on a U.S. team in the Pan American Games.

The 12-player U18 squad, which includes three incoming Connecticut freshmen, will compete at the FIBA Americas U18 qualifying tournament from Aug. 15-19 in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. The team will be coached by Katie Meier of Miami, with Nikki Caldwell of LSU and Kelly Graves of Gonzaga assisting.

Among returning USA players are Stewart's fellow UConn signee, Morgan Tuck of Bolingbrook, Ill., who won gold with the U19 and U17 teams. The other three are Bashaara Graves of Clarksville, Tenn., who won gold with the U17 and U16 teams; Imani Stafford of Los Angeles, who won gold with the U17 team and was named to the U19 team but withdrew because of injury; and Jannah Tucker of Randallstown, Md., who won gold with the U16 team at last year's Americas qualifier.

[+] EnlargeKendall Cooper
Glenn Nelson/ESPN.comKendall Cooper, a 6-foot-3 post player from Carson, Calif., is expected to be among a trio of excellent shot-throttling inside players for the USA U18 squad.

A third Connecticut signee, Moriah Jefferson of Glenn Heights, Texas, made a national team after eyebrow-raising cuts at two previous USA trials. The other newcomers are Lexie Brown of Suwanee, Ga.; Kendall Cooper of Carson, Calif.; Allisha Gray of Sandersville, Ga.; Michaela Mabrey of Holmdel, N.J.; Alexis Prince of Maitland, Fla.; and Brittney Sykes of Newark, N.J.

Cooper, Gray and Tucker participated in the U17 trials and were among six players invited afterward to switch to the U18 trials that ended Monday.

In keeping with previous Americas tournament squads in recent years, this one isn't quite loaded up on size, the way the world championship entrants are. Five players -- 6-foot-7 Stafford, 6-4 Stewart, 6-3 Cooper, 6-2 Graves and 6-2 Tuck -- should be sufficient to dominate the lane against the level of talent the U.S. will encounter in Puerto Rico. A sixth player, 6-2 Prince, is more of a shooter but can swing inside, as well. Cooper, Stafford and Stewart likely will be the best shot-blocking trio in the tournament.

Prince, Brown and Mabrey are classic perimeter shooters who can loosen up international defenses that usually jam the key to help shut down the U.S. size and penetration. Gray, Jefferson, Sykes and Tucker are slashers who also have accomplished midrange games on offense. Jefferson is the closest to a classic point guard on the roster and the best lockdown perimeter defender.

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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.