July 7, 2024 

How Team USA looks going into the Under-17 World Cup

The squad is a mix of familiar and fresh faces

Team USA’s roster heading into the FIBA Under-17 World Cup is a mix of familiar and fresh faces. Eight of the 12 players won the gold medal at the Under-16 Americas Championship last year. The other four will wear the red, white and blue for the first time. The event will take place from July 13 to 21 in Irapuato and Leon, Mexico, and the five-time champion U.S. is the heavy favorite.

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“The energy was great in the gym,” U.S. coach Meg Barber told The Next as training camp began. “It’s a great mix of returning players who have previous USA Basketball experience mixed with some new faces. It’s a versatile group. So it’s fun to get out on the court with them and to see what they can do together as a team.”

Jacy Abii, Kelsi Andrews, Addison Bjorn, Lanie Grant (committed to North Carolina), Lola Lampley, Jerzy Robinson, Hailee Swain (committed to Stanford) and McKenna Woliczko were on the 2023 team that overtook Canada in the final, 79-59, in Merida, Mexico. Robinson was named MVP, averaging more than 17 points and 10 rebounds per game as a 14-year-old. The Phoenix resident is the top-ranked recruit in the 2026 high school class.

Alexandra Eschmeyer (committed to Stanford), Jordyn Palmer, Emilee Skinner and Ivanna Wilson-Manyacka are the newcomers. Palmer and Wilson-Manyacka join Robinson as the youngest players on the team. All are 15 and also 6’1. The 17-year-old Eschmeyer, the team’s tallest player, stands 6’5. The 5’9 Swain registered 10.3 points and a team-high 15 steals at the tournament in Merida. Andrews, who is 6’3 and from Alabama, was a late replacement for Kaleena Smith.

“It’s already showing in the comfort ability in being back at the training center,” Barber added of the returning players. “They have that business mentality in what USA Basketball stands for in these tournaments. I think it will go a long way for us. Talent jells, so we don’t have a shortage of that. One of the biggest keys to this puzzle is finding our chemistry and being able to play off each other’s strengths. It’s going to take time on the court together to hope that comes along.”

Team USA practices at its Colorado Springs training camp. (Photo credit: USA Basketball)

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Five-time champions

The U.S. is 40-1 all-time at the Under-17 World Cup, with a bronze medal in 2016 outstanding. It will open Groups C play with Australia on July 13. It then plays Puerto Rico on July 14 and Croatia on July 16. Group A features Japan, Spain, Argentina and Finland. Host Mexico is in Group B with Italy, Mali and New Zealand. Group D contains Chinese Taipei, Egypt, Canada and France. All 16 teams will advance to the knockout stage.

“We have a target on our back,” Barber said. “So we know we are going to get everybody’s best shot. The international competition not only has continued to get stronger, but it is also very diverse in the different styles teams are playing. I think we are going to see a lot of teams with a lot of strengths. So it will be our ability to play our game and then shift our focus to the next opponent. We need to make sure to put the team first.”

It might be difficult to keep players this age grounded and focused on the court. However, Barber noted that the intensive rounds of qualifying and training camps with other players who are “absolutely stacked” allows the athletes to become acclimated to the national program’s culture.

“Knowing you even made this group of 12 speaks volumes for USA Basketball,” she said. “It’s a work environment, and the players are competitive.”

Meg Barber smiles and claps in a USA Basketball jersey
Meg Barber, center, played for NYU and was an assistant at Temple before returning as a coach. (Photo credit: USA Basketball)

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A national champion coach

Barber is no stranger to winning with a dominant team. The New York University coach led the Violets to a 31-0 undefeated season and Division III national championship just three month ago.

“The group that we won it with this year was part of the initial recruiting push we had when we first turned this program over six years ago,” Barber said of NYU. “To get to this point and see them win a national championship with all of our alums and families in the stands, and to go undefeated, that was a cherry on top. That was never our goal. We just took it one game at a time and we were fortunate to be on the winning side of all of them.”

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Last time out

The U.S. downed Spain, 84-62, in the final of the previous Under-17 World Cup at Debrecen, Hungary, in 2022. USC star JuJu Watkins was the MVP, scoring more than 13 points per game. Cassandre Prosper of Canada joined Watkins in the All-Star Five, and she just made the Olympic team at age 19. Other former MVPs include Jordan Horston, Diamond DeShields and Ezi Magbegor, who led Australia to the gold medal in the lone year the U.S. did not win.

Written by Scott Mammoser

Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.

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