Three South Carolina players are getting together for some pickup – 1,600 miles from Columbia.
The Gamecocks’ Alaina Coates, A’ja Wilson and Tiffany Mitchell are heading to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Thursday, each aiming for a spot on one of America’s international teams. Mitchell, who also attended a tryout for the 2016 Olympic team in Las Vegas, and Coates are competing for spots in the Pan American and World University Games, while Wilson is a candidate for those two teams and the U19 World Championship team.
“It’s a lot of fun to kind of come together as one,” said Wilson, no stranger to summer international hoops after playing on various teams since high school. “The USA does a great job of bringing a lot of us together.”
“It kind of was a surprise,” said Coates, who classified her all-SEC second-team season as not as good as it should have been but thought her MVP performance in the Greensboro Regional earned her an invite. “I do feel my postseason kind of put me out there for the committee.”
Wilson was the MVP of last year’s under-18 world championship team (coached by Dawn Staley) and will again try out for Staley with the under-19 team. Five other members of last year’s team will re-join her at the tryouts.
The team will play in Chekhov, Russia, from July 18-26 and travel to Alicante, Spain, for the round-robin tournament before the finals.
“(Staley) knows my ways now,” Wilson said. “Last year, I hadn’t yet played for her, so we were still finding out about each other. Now, I’ve worn my USC jersey for a year and she knows me probably like she knows the back of her hand. She knows what I’m capable of.”
Wilson could make the U19 team or the Pan Am/World teams, perhaps with Coates and/or Mitchell. Each team will have 12 players from a 54-member pool.
The Pan Am games are held every four years with teams from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean. They will be held July 16-20 in Toronto. The USA last won gold at Pan Am in 2007, when Staley was coach.
The World games are held every other year and will be July 4-13 in Gwangju, South Korea. The U.S. has won gold in each of the past five World games where it has fielded a team.
Mitchell won gold with the FIBA 3x3 team last summer, and she competed in the 2010 U17 World Championship trials. The two-time SEC Player of the Year and consensus first-team All-American has a slim chance of making the 2016 Olympic team (which is stocked with professional players), but she can win a gold this summer with one of the other two.
Coates returns to international competition after participating in the 2011 U16 national trials as a high school sophomore. She’s eager to claim a spot this time.
“I’m not really nervous, given that I have tried out before,” Coates said. “I just need to do what I do best.”
NOTE: Coates also talked about next season. The thought was the 6-foot-4 junior would move into Elem Ibiam’s departed spot at center, but the Gamecocks recently signed center Sarah Imovbioh, a transfer from Virginia.
Imovbioh is 6-2 but was the ACC’s leading rebounder. It’s doubtful she’d come in for her final year and be asked to play a different position. Coates said that she and Staley haven’t talked about it yet, since they have yet to have Imovbioh practice with the Gamecocks.
“We’ll see in practice where everybody fits best,” Coates said. “I’m prepared to play the four or the five.”
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