June 26, 2023
Who to watch for with Team USA at the AmeriCup
Top collegiate players to face best teams in hemisphere
Team USA will look to win its third consecutive FIBA AmeriCup next week as it brings a dozen of the brightest stars in college basketball to Leon, Mexico, to compete against nine other teams from North and South America.
A roster of Janiah Barker, Lauren Betts, Chance Gray, Abbey Hsu, Rickea Jackson, Raven Johnson, Deja Kelly, Rayah Marshall, Charisma Osborne, Laila Phelia, Angel Reese and Jewel Spear is embarking on the largest city in Guanajuato, which is in the center of the country. Kamie Ethridge of Washington State is the head coach, while Aaron Johnston of South Dakota State and Katrina Merriweather of Cincinnati are her assistants.
The USA opens with Venezuela on July 1, followed by games against Argentina on July 2, Brazil on July 4 and Cuba on July 5. The four highest finishers in the group will move on to the quarterfinals. The gold and silver medalists will then advance to next year’s FIBA Olympic qualifying tournaments. The top seven will qualify for the Pan American Games this October and November in Santiago, Chile.
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Breaking down the roster
The U.S. lineup boasts different national team experience at many levels. Betts, the 6’7 UCLA center, returns from the 2021 Under-19 World Cup gold medal team. As that group’s youngest player, she recorded 11 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Marshall of USC and Barker of Texas A&M are the other interior players.
Johnson (South Carolina), Kelly (North Carolina), Osborne (UCLA), Phelia (Michigan) and Gray (Oregon) anchor the backcourt. At 18, the 5’9 Gray is the youngest player on the team. Osborne was a gold medalist at the 2018 Under-17 World Cup.
Spear scored 14 points in her lone game of the 2021 Under-19 World Cup. She led the ACC in scoring as a sophomore at Wake Forest in 2021-22 at 18.3 points per game. The guard is transferring to Tennessee for this upcoming season, where she will join Jackson.
“It’s exciting to get to play with one of my upcoming teammates,” Jackson told The Next. “Growing that chemistry early, it’s definitely a blessing. Pick-and-roll actions and two-man teams [are examples of chemistry]. Jewel and I are usually on opposite teams, though, [in training camp], so we are trading buckets, so it’s pretty exciting. I need to be vocal and an energy giver. I am impressed with everyone, honestly.”
Jackson is the most-experienced international player on the team. The 6’2 forward from Detroit won the gold medal at the 2019 3X3 Under-18 World Cup. She also led the 2019 World University Games, scoring at 22.2 per game, winning the silver medal.
“It helps me for the physicality that is to come,” Jackson said of her experience. “Playing against different countries, they are always really physical. They play at a really fast pace, and I noticed that we have to match their physicality.”
In her first season in Knoxville, the former Mississippi State Bulldog scored 19.2 points per game. That mark qualifies her as the Lady Vols’ sixth-highest average scorer for her career.
NCAA champion Reese looking for more hardware
Perhaps the biggest name on the roster is Angel Reese. The forward from Baltimore scored 23 points and grabbed 15.4 rebounds per game at LSU this season on her way to Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors. She is attempting to do what Haley Jones did for Stanford in 2021, combining that accolade with the AmeriCup gold medal.
Reese’s experience with USA Basketball has not all been glamorous, though. She participated in the 2021 Under-19 World Cup trials, plus training camp for the 2018 Under-17 World Cup team and the Under-16 team in 2017. This is the first time she made one of the rosters.
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“It’s amazing. ‘Never stop trying’ is my biggest thing,” Reese said. “I have been here a few times, and I am super excited to be back here. To play with these amazing girls and represent my country, it will be amazing to get on my resume. I am going to do whatever it takes to win. Everyone knows my rebounding ability. That’s always something that I will always have, but my leadership role, as well.”
Reese, who was named BET Sportswoman of the Year earlier in the day of the interview, said she feels the camaraderie from the other players.
“These girls have been fun to play against,” she added. “I feel like I have gotten better already. Everyone is getting better. To see all of come together from different programs is great. We are all learning from each other.”
Columbia’s Hsu an unlikely national teamer
She might not be on TV as much as the SEC and Pac-12 players, but Abbey Hsu will have her chance to impress in Leon. Hsu scored 17.8 points per game for Columbia this season and will be a threat from long range. She set the Ivy League single-season 3-point record last campaign.
“We’re going to be playing against older women,” Hsu told reporters on June 23. “So I think it’s going to be cool to a) play with the best college players around the country and b) represent my country. And then also to be able to play against the greatest talent in the world and also women who have been playing the game longer than us. Hopefully, we could come out of these games and win but also learn something from playing against these women. Everyone is on the same page. We’re going to go out there and play our hardest no matter who we are playing.”
Who else to keep an eye on
While the best American players are competing in the WNBA this summer, the other delegations are sending their best talent. These are athletes who may have competed in the World Cup or Olympics in the past.
Host Mexico joins Canada, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Colombia in its group. According to the CBC, the Canadian roster is expected to include veterans Kayla Alexander and Nirra Fields. Canada is also mixing in young players such as Cassandre Prosper of Notre Dame and Toby Fournier of Duke.
Former No. 1 WNBA Draft pick Lindsey Harding coaches the Mexican team. Gladys Avila will appear in her seventh senior tournament for Mexico and led the 2022 Centrobasket with 16.3 points per game. Paola Beltran and Jacqueline Luna Castro were also double-figure scorers at that Central American event.
Manuela Rios of Colombia led the 2021 AmeriCup in assists and was named to the All-Star team.
Written by Scott Mammoser
Scott Mammoser started out covering the Niagara University women's basketball team in 2002. He went on to cover FIBA World Cups in Turkey and Spain, Under-19 World Cups in Thailand and Spain, the Asia Cup in China, as well as major international events for World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 80 countries.