Mike Siroky's SEC Notebook: South Carolina's Staley and Wilson Headline USA U-19 Gold
Just as having Holly Warlick at her side (as an assistant coach) helped Tennessee’s Mercedes Russell at the World University Games, so, too, did having Dawn Staley at her side (as the coach) help South Carolina’s A'ja Wilson, the tournament MVP in the recently under-19 world basketball tournament in Chekov, Russia
The Gamecock duo set some impressive marks.
Wilson broke the U.S. women's scoring record in the title game with 30; she led the team by averaging 18.3 points in the tournament run. She was the obvious choice as MVP, the best player on the best team.
The Southeastern Conference rookie of the year joins some elite company as the latest greatest.
Wilson is the fourth USA athlete to participate in and win two FIBA U19 World Championship medals; she also won Gold in 2013.
Baylor’s Alexis Jones and Connecticut’s Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart teamed up in 2011 and 2013 to win Golds.
Those three have all maintained in the older teams which are open to college players.
The WNBA elite occupy the Olympic spots, though Stewart might make her first Games next year after UConn romps to another title.
Staley became the first U.S. coach to both play in and coach a USA U19 World Championship Team.
Previously known as the FIBA Junior World Championship, Staley’s first outing in a USA Basketball uniform was at the 1989 Junior Worlds.
In the Under-19s USA has a record sixth straight women's under-19 Gold and seventh overall. Russia was the final foe this time, losing 78-70.
USA took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter, scored seven straight and took away home court.
"It was so tough," Wilson said about playing against host Russia. "I thought away games (in the SEC) were tough, but playing an away game in a whole different country against the home team is just out of this world. They had such great fans that were nonstop cheering."
Duke's Azura Stevens scored 18, so that was 48 of the 78 between she and Wilson. USA finished the tournament 7-0.
UConn was represented by Napheesa Collier, an incoming player, and Crystal Dangerfield, a freshman in 2016.
A third UConn player had to skip this
Staley was most impressed with Collier and, of course, Wilson, her team captain. She averaged 23.3 minutes per game – as usual, some were blowouts and therefore, less minutes available. Collier averaged 24.1 minutes and 12.7 points per game, joining Wilson on the all-tournament team.
“I had a great opportunity to work with A’ja and Napheesa last summer,” Staley said, “so I think they were familiar with our style of play and how we like to play. It was great to have their veteran leadership coming in.”
She said their consistency set the pace for the USA, “Just setting the tone and setting the example of how we need to play and how we need to approach it to win in a tight situation like in the Gold medal game.”
As for the tough finisher: “It is great for the players. Now they get a chance to see what international play is all about.
“You win big in pool play. In the medal rounds, the leads that you had, they tighten. Then in the Gold medal game you are always going to be challenged in some way. I
"think sometimes, our young players do not get to why they need to be disciplined in lopsided victories.
“But, we are always playing for that stretch of a ball game when you can win or lose it. I was glad that we had A’ja and Napheesa in there to be a force on the floor, and a calm in the midst of our storm.”
She also praised her assistants, Jeff Walz (Louisville) and Kim Barnes-Arico (Michigan).
“I don’t know who the committee is that picked this staff, but it was a great staff. They always had suggestions as to what we should do next,” Staley said.
“It was never more apparent than in the Gold medal game, where they made some calls that gave us an edge to go out there and win a Gold. And, I love them for it. I respect them even more. I know them as competitors, but to know them in this way means a lot.”
In the medal rounds, USA defeated Canada, 93-45, and Spain, 80-65.
Collier liked the tough competition and realizes the prep work ed to the result
“It feels amazing,” she said. “All the hard work that we all put in showed. It paid off.
“Definitely, I think these are the best games. These are my favorite kind of games, so I am glad that it was a tough game.”
She had no idea she was going to be all-tournament, but knew Wilson had earned her place
”I was really shocked,” Collier said of her selection, “and I think everyone could tell, because I was super confused, walking in circles when he was trying to tell me where to go. But, I was really proud.”
And of Wilson: “I am so proud of her. She deserved it, definitely. She played so well this tournament.
”This is going to help me a lot, because it has showed me how to play with college players and against them. So, it gives me a little bit of extra experience.”
Wilson returned the compliments.
“It was hard,” she said. “I told the girls when we were sitting around at pre-game, they asked how are we were going to hear, and I said, ‘You all are going to hear one voice and that is going to be Dawn Staley. I know that she is going to make her voice be heard no matter what.’
“So as long as I can hear her voice, that is pretty much it. It kept me calm to understand what she wanted on the court. It was tough playing in that environment, but it is always good to hear that one American voice.
”It was amazing. I cannot explain the feeling that I get. It never feels old to get a Gold medal and hear your National Anthem. It was great to win this medal, and to win against the host team is always great.
”It is great (to be all-tournament). And congratulations to Napheesa as well. She played a great game. It is great to be listed among those great players that really worked hard. Just to come out with Gold with this team is great.”
And she recognizes the accomplishment of winning two Under-19s
”It feels great; it really does. And going from two years ago when I was that young girl, 16-years-old, trying to take it all in as a role player, to being the MVP, the captain of this team.
“It goes to show that if you just work hard and let it all come to you, everything will be great. That is something I will take away from this, is letting it come to you, knowing how to play your role and what is to be expected of you.”
Two nationally-appreciated unsigned talents on this team were 6-4 forward Lauren Cox and 5-7 swing guard Destiny Slocum.
Cox is likely to stay in Texas and Slocum is not yet sure. She had committed to Washington, then withdrew that option, though it is still open. She is from Meridian, Idaho.
She was a late replacement to this team added just on July 17 when UConn signee Katie Lou Samuelson had to stay home to deal with an illness in her family.
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