Coach Robinson was in Guanajuato, Mexico from August 20-30. The USA Basketball U16 Women’s National Team played in the FIBA Americas Championship.
Sunday, August 29: We have made it to the gold medal game which is tonight vs. Canada. Canada is the only other undefeated team left. We knocked off Costa Rico and Mexico in the quarter and semifinals to reach tonight’s game. As I posted on our social media, things got a little interesting on our way to the game last night. We left the hotel and noticed that the lights were on at the soccer stadium which is next door to the basketball arena. The home team, Leon, were taking on Club America, the #2 ranked team and a rival.
Our normal path to the arena was blocked by security who re-routed us. As we were approaching the staging area, a police escort was ahead of Club America’s bus who arrived at the same time us. They let us go first, followed by the police escort and then Club America. The crowd outside of the soccer arena thought our bus was Club America and they started yelling and chanting at our bus. Then they started banging on our bus. Finally, they realized that the Club America bus was behind us and they left us alone.
Add that to my “new experience” list.
So, hopefully we can play well and win tonight. It will be a quick turnaround as we board our bus tomorrow morning at 6:30 am to head to the airport. With Hurricane Ida out there, I hope travel for everyone runs smoothly. We are to be on the same flight at Puerto Rico and Canada from Leon to Houston and then we all go our separate ways from there. I go from Houston to Chicago and then Chicago to Greensboro.
If you want to watch the game tonight, it can be found on YouTube’s FIBA Channel at 9:30 EST for free. Just click “subscribe”.
Wednesday, August 25: We finished up group play 3-0 by defeating Argentina. Argentina, like a couple of other teams, wears their emotions on their sleeve. When they score, it is a mini celebration. Lots of fist pumps, shouts of joy, and high fives after made baskets. It is fun to see their passion for the game. Again, they don’t seem to mind the margin on the scoreboard, they just appear to have a joy in their hearts to play the game.
Their excitement, again, reminds of soccer players. Not many goals are scored in soccer so when it happens there is a celebration. That, I think, is what some of the countries transfer over to basketball. They score and it’s a celebration, albeit short lived because of the pace of the game.
All the teams are off on Thursday as bracket play is setup and the quest to try and win a gold medal is before each of the eight teams.
Tuesday, August 24: We defeated the host country, Mexico, in tonight’s second game. Mexico has improved since the last time I saw them in 2014. Obviously, there are different players from that time now, but their style of play is more uptempo than what is was a few years ago. Their crowd was really into the game tonight. They blew horns and cheered the entire game, no matter the score. It’s really neat to see how the entire arena, sans our small contingent, got behind them and didn’t let up.
After the game, there was a crowd waiting for us outside wanting to take pictures and give gifts to our players. Unfortunately, due to COVID, our players weren’t allowed to accommodate. I am really glad that this set of girls and many of the first time coaches and administrative staff get to have this experience. I wish they could do everything that past teams have been able to do, one of which is to interact with the fans.
Monday, August 23: We had our first game this evening and won big over Chile’. I posted on our social media accounts the chills I got when hearing our National Anthem being played. You hear the other anthems during the day, but then you are on the court going through warmups / pregame and then for that moment when it’s time for your anthem to be played you start remembering that you are doing all of this representing your country. This and the U17s are the highest levels you can reach as a high school coach. The U18s and U19s followed by the Americup and possibly the Pan Am Games and then the actual Olympics are for college and professional coaches. Being a part of everything in Las Vegas last month cracked open the door and allowed me to peek in at what the Olympic Level is like. I get to share those experiences with these U16s.
I hope to also those moments with the Stealers program participants. This is just something so different and unique and it’s really hard to explain. I actually got asked yesterday by a staff member if I was having a good time. I was caught off guard a little, but I think the staff member was used to me being in a coaching role which is what I do year round. Now that I have moved up to a staff role with USAB, I guess the staff member was just making sure. I told the staff member that this was, in some cases, better than coaching because I’m seeing the other side of operations. It’s professional development and I definitely feel like I’m growing.
There are college coaches here: Jeff Walz from Louisville and Wes Moore from NC State were at our game tonight as well as an assistant from Duke.
Game #2 in group play (aka pool play) is Tuesday, August 24th vs. Mexico, the host team.
Sunday, August 22: Tonight I took part in the team certification process. That was kind of intense. Briana Weiss is our co-team leader (along with me) and we had to present our team uniforms, our staff game shirts, our team shooting shirts and our staff travel jackets for inspection. The FIBA staff took pictures of each article our team, coaches and staff will wear this week. They then checked every passport, each registration form and COVID test multiple times to make sure everything that was sent in pre-arrival checked out.
Each team goes through the same thing, but I had no idea this even was part of the process. Again, learning something new everyday.
As intense as that was, it runs a distance second to our COVID tests each day. Wow! The twenty members of our party get in a line and one-by-one we present our paperwork to the tester. The tester then sticks a swab up one nostril and then does the same in your mouth almost reaching your throat. Thankfully, the throat one hasn’t taken place the last two days, but the nose one is still there. It is something even our staff doctor and trainer have a tough time going through. It’s definitely different than how we tested back home, but we are here and it’s their rules.
Saturday, August 21: Our first full day in Mexico centered around our team practice. We had our regular COVID test and film session before practice. We went over the pregame ceremony and how we will handle warm up since our time will be limited due to COVID. They don’t want teams waiting in the stands or watching other games (in person) so we will get to the arena basically 30-35 minutes before our game time and hit the floor once we walk in. We’ll learn more on Sunday as that will be our first day to practice in the game arena.
Our athlete village is Real de Minas. All of the teams are here. It’s neat seeing all of the different countries around the village. Each country has twenty people in their traveling party. The countries playing are: USA, Canada, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Chile, Argentina and Mexico. All of the different colors of uniforms representing their countries, again, brings a sense of pride to our girls and me and though there are different languages it’s the game of basketball that brings us together.
The game schedule and how you can watch is found using this link: http://www.fiba.basketball/en/u16americas/2021/games.
Friday, August 20: Long day of travel which began with a 3:05 am wake up to get downstairs to load up our eleven equipment bags on the bus. Of course, the one morning that it decided to pour down rain was this morning so Eliot (Mar) and I are outside loading the first eleven bags in a steady rain. Next came the player and coaches bags between 5:00-5:30 am. Still raining. However, we have a job to do and we did it. I’ll post some pictures later on the Teach TheGame Facebook page and Instagram.
There are twenty people total in our travel party. Twelve players and eight adults. Three of the adults are coaches, there is a team doctor, a team trainer, and then a team leader and an equipment manager. My role falls between team leader and equipment manager. I really enjoy it a lot. I get to do so much and again, it is continuous learning.
Back to the trip… we got to Dulles International Airport and unloaded all of the bags…. still raining…. and got everyone and every item checked in. We flew into Houston, got a quick lunch and were ready to board our plane to Mexico. Puerto Rico’s National Team was on our plane which gave our girls the sense of pride that “Hey we are wearing the red, white and blue and we need to play and act accordingly”.
Got through customs / immigration and onto our team bus to the hotel. All of the teams are here and there are STRICT COVID protocols in place.
We had a quick 5:00 “lunch” and everyone had to take a COVID test. We then had practice and then came back for a late dinner. The day capped off with a ninety minute team leader meeting with all of the participating teams. So I got to put on my co-leader hat and be a part of the process… again… more learning how FIBA Basketball works.
More tomorrow when I have some time.
Thursday, August 19: Last day of practices in the States, now hoping for a good night’s sleep and up early in the morning to head to Guanajuato, Mexico. We fly from Dulles to Houston then to Leon. We will take a bus over to our hotel and have to take a COVID test, then have a meal, an evening practice and then another meal before calling it a day.
Maryland, as stated, has been wonderful for me personally and professionally. I’ve been on the road this summer more than I have ever been before. I have had some long AAU summers and in 2014 we had a two week trip with USA Basketball, but nothing has come close to this summer. I hope our party of twenty can continue to pull in the same direction for the next ten days and win a gold medal. I know the girls are excited and naturally there are going to be nerves because this will be their first international event. The games can be found on fiba.basketball .
I’ll continue to update this post and on the social media accounts as much as possible during our time in Mexico.
Wednesday, August 18 – Yesterday we took a tour of Washington, DC. Our tour guide was great. I’ll try to place a post on our social media accounts about him. Today, like yesterday, we just had one practice. We have two practices on Thursday before heading to Mexico on Friday. Friday will be an early start. Equipment bags need to be on the bus by 4:30 am and then travel bags at 5:30 am. We have to do an “entry” test to get into Mexico twelve hours before entering the country so that takes place in between our bus delivery.
Besides that, it’s just business as usual here. The practices have been fairly smooth, the girls are starting to get a little anxious as we approach our travel date. For me, my last FIBA Tournament was 2014 in the Czech Republic. I’m looking forward to experiencing the tournament again. Every single moment is a learning experience. I have a new appreciation for each moment and am making a conscious effort to soak everything in. I wasn’t sure if I’d get the opportunity to do this again and albeit it is from a different vantage point it still is very special and definitely a privilege to experience. One more post tomorrow, hopefully, and then the next one after that will come from Mexico.
Monday, August 16 – I guess the phrase “The best laid plans, etc…” applies here. I’ve been wanting to post from Maryland, but wow, it’s been non-stop for the last few days.
On Thursday and Friday of last week, the travel for our team to get here was wild. We had so many cancellations, delays, and lost bags. Through all of that we managed to get everyone here and have started two-a-day practices. We still didn’t retrieve our final lost bag until late Saturday evening. On top of the practices, we have had daily COVID testing, a USADA Class which educated our players on drug testing which starts at the U16 level, going over a seventy-two page manual with all of the information related to Mexico and handling all of the logistics to help make our stay in Maryland as easy as possible.
I’ve stated it before, but I really enjoy the support staff / Co-Lead role. To give you an idea of what a normal day looks like for me, it begins by getting to breakfast before the team and coaches and then heading out the door with Eliot Mar who is also on our support staff. We head over to our practice site and setup everything from the chairs (distance between to follow protocol), making sure each chair has a towel and a bottle of water, filling up the two coolers with ice and water, setting up the score clock, making sure the trainer has what she needs to make the athletes the best they can be, making sure the basketballs are ready for each player and of course, securing the entire facility so that no one can enter our “bubble”. The day ends by breaking all of that down and securing it. In between is basically setting up for the late practice and making adjustments from the early practice.
I’ll TRY my best to stay on a daily schedule for you if I can.
Wednesday, August 11 – Thursday, August 12: I haven’t forgotten about you. Part of my new role is being up to speed with all of the details concerning our upcoming trip to Mexico which includes studying a seventy-two page protocol manual.
We set up the facility at Sidwell Friends School yesterday which will be our practice site until we leave on the 20th.
I promise to much more on Twitter and here as we get into the weekend and beyond.
Remember…. Patience ( see post below 🙂 ).
Tuesday, August 10: I am now in Bethesda, Maryland. I am the first of our group to arrive. One more member gets in later tonight, followed by a few more tomorrow and then the majority of the team and staff arrives on Thursday.
My word of the day is PATIENCE. My flight was supposed to leave from Greensboro at 3:00 and I was to arrive at Dulles at 4:10, however we didn’t depart until 4:15. Every time we were supposed to take off we had another delay. We landed around 5:20 or so and I headed off to baggage claim. There were storms around the area which delayed baggage claim for about fifteen minutes, however, around 6:00 everyone had their bags except me. I was told to go another carousel as my bag was probably over there, but no luck. I also walked over to report a lost bag, but the line was too long so I decided to go back to my original carousel. Still nothing… except watching it go round and round. I’m not sure what inside of me told me to wait it out, but I did and around 6:30 my bag suddenly came up the belt. I know people thought I was weird for staring at the carousel by myself. Even the board that read “Greensboro” went to blank while all of the other ones around me were operating fine. I am glad I waited out and believed that what I was doing was right.
Back to being patient. It’s funny how something like a baggage claim carousel can teach you about life. The choice in front of me was to panic or go throw a tantrum because my bag somehow went missing or to trust what I thought was right and what made the most sense, Once I got my bag, it was off to the hotel.
Yet, I was stopped every few minutes by someone asking “How was Tokyo” or “Do you have your medal with you”? I explained to each person that I was with the Olympic Teams in Las Vegas before they left for Tokyo but I didn’t go to the Olympics. Instead I am here with the U16 trying to help this group reach that level some day. USA Basketball is one big family. The apparel the Olympic teams wear, we wear at the U16 level. Everything is pretty much the same at all levels. It is fun to explain to people about USAB because even though it is the top of the basketball food chain, a lot of people don’t know or understand how things work.
PATIENCE is my word for the day.
Sunday, July 18: Sunday was a busy one. The day began with a shoot-around for the Nigerian women at 8:30. I spent the time in between the shoot-around and their game vs. the USA National Team handling all of Nigeria’s will call ticket requests, helping locate a lost uniform, making sure that their schedule for the NEXT day was in place for them so that when the game concluded they had that in hand, and running back and forth between the Mandalay Bay Hotel, the Delano Hotel and the Michelob Ultra Arena to take care of a few loose ends. Learning again how the behind the scenes operations work to see what goes into making sure everything around the game runs smoothly is incredible.
The double header on Sunday was fun, Sitting beside the Nigerian team bench and listening to the different interactions was a privilege. I found myself trying to figure out how I would handle this situation or that situation as my coaching “hat” was put on. Following that game, I had the opportunity to sit court side for the USA Men vs. Spain game. Hearing the amount of chatter up close (some good, some not) was fascinating. Watching on TV you know there is talking taking place, but to sit right there and hear it all is a story in itself.
I’ll post pictures on our Facebook page: Teach TheGame, our Instagram page: teach_the_game and our Twitter Account: @wsstealers.
Saturday, July 17: The day began with Australian Women’s National Team Liaison Terri Ward and I working our way downstairs to exit the backdoor secure area so we could make it to the arena. As we passed through the workout room, there was USA Women’s Basketball legends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. I waved to Sue and she smiled and said “Winston-Salem” and I said “Yes, that’s my name”. She laughed and then I told Diana that there is a big fan of hers on our Stealers coaching staff (Coach Rizoti). For those of you don’t know, Sue Bird came to Winston-Salem in 2015 and ran a basketball camp for our Stealers program.
We got to the arena early so that we could make sure everything was setup for the scrimmage between Australia and Nigeria (Women’s Teams). The teams got together beforehand to talk about having a clean and competitive scrimmage, which they did.
Sunday will basically be the final tuneup for the United States Women’s Team and the Nigerian Women’s Teams before they head to Tokyo. The game is on the NBC Sports Olympic Channel online.
Friday, July 16: Following Nigeria’s practice yesterday evening, I talked with Nneka Ogwumike. Nneka is a member of the Nigerian Women’s Team, but is not allowed to play in Saturday’s scrimmage vs. Australia or in Sunday’s game vs. USA due to a FIBA decision. You can read about that HERE.
Nneka and I first met in 2008 when she was a high school senior. She was playing in our WBCA High School All-American Game in Tampa, Florida. She was scheduled to fly out of Tampa back to Houston around 5:30 on a Monday morning. Her mom was insisted that she was on that plane so that she could make it back in time to be on time for school. I promised her mom, by phone, the day before that I would get her to the airport on time. Early that Monday morning, her mom called me at 2:30, 3:00 and 3:30 just to make sure I was up and had Nneka ready to go.
I got Nneka to the airport on time, she made her flight and to school on time. I shared that memory with Nneka yesterday and she had a good laugh saying that she remembered that.
Nneka went onto play college ball at Stanford and then in the WNBA with the Los Angeles Sparks where she was league MVP in 2016.
The story about the Tampa flight is one we couldn’t forget and I am glad we could reconnect about the moment. A better example of moments and relationships concerning Nneka is that her mom and Ify Egbuna, whose daughter Dumebi played for the Stealers and graduated from our program in 2014, were friends growing up and went to high school together. Dumebi went on to play at Emory University in Atlanta. I asked Nneka about Ify as well and she knew exactly who she was and her mom’s relationship with her. Another good example of the value of moments and relationships. Another good reminder that the right people don’t forget when you are at least trying your best to help them and you never know who knows someone that knows you and all of the different connections.
Thursday, July 15: Another interesting day, but they all are. I think we are placed in certain places at certain times for certain reasons. It may not make sense at the moment, but everything tends to reveal the “Why” at some point in the future. When USA Basketball asked me to be a liaison for the Nigerian Women’s National Team I was excited and flattered; I still am. When I arrived here in Las Vegas, I saw the other team liaisons and their team assignments and wondered what was behind placing who with who? It’s starting to come into focus, albeit slowly, the “why” behind my current position. I’ll explain more at a later date, but I guess my point is for those back home or follow this daily, that there has to be some level of trust involved when you don’t have the advantage of being able to see ahead.
I try to tell my players to trust what they are being taught and what is being done on and off the court because I have the advantage of seeing ahead. When you lived the experience numerous times before, you know where the potholes are and you know which direction to point each person to so they can have an opportunity at success. The question is “Will they trust you enough and be patient long enough to let the plan work”?
Every USA Basketball experience for me provides my own personal answers to that same question in my head. I’ve learned to just do my job and do it to the best of my ability, not focusing on what another person in a similar role may be doing. I’ve learned to lean on those who have experience and keep a keen eye on everything and everyone around me.
My suggestion to you is to learn how to do your work with the focus and drive that you are only, daily, competing with yourself. When you do that, life is peaceful, people will respect you and those who can really help you will do just that… maybe not on your timetable, but eventually that (the help) will happen.
Wednesday, July 14: A little late on this post, sorry. The day started with the Nigerian Women’s Team practicing in the morning at UNLV. After practice, I had to go back to the main COVID testing site as we all have to test each day. The testing and dining areas are where I tend to run into many of my friends or those I have past relationships with or where I see the figures that are known nationally / globally. I, again, have my rules on who, when and where I take pictures when it comes to USA Basketball and the testing area is definitely not a place where I’m going to do that. I know many of you want to know and see as much as possible from all of these experiences and I try my best to accommodate on Twitter (@RisON2021), Facebook, Instagram and sometimes LinkedIN.
For example, as soon as I finished testing, here comes Draymond Green and Kevin Love passing me in the hall followed by Candace Parker. It’s pretty much like this everyday and every time with USAB. The thing to keep in mind is that everyone here is on the same team and we are supposed to be pulling in the same direction. The main goal with everyone involved is to help our teams win a gold medal, no matter what our roles are.
Yes, being around so many well-known people could be overwhelming, but I remind myself that someone at USA Basketball put me in the position I’m in and has allowed me to stay with the organization for close to fifteen years now. They don’t micromanage me at all. They give me a job and expect me to get things done. With that in mind, all of the things I try to stress to our players: discipline, self-control, etc… come into play. I find it very interesting that I am actually coaching myself mentally each day because human nature is to run up to everyone and ask for an autograph or a picture. As stated before, there is a time and place for everything.
First picture: The concourse area of Cox Pavilion on the campus of UNLV. This is one of the main sites for team practices. This is also one of the sites for the NBA Summer League and the Throwback Tournament.
Second picture: Some of the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal Team. Terri Ward (current Australian team liaison and volunteer with the ’96 team in the red shirt) and ’96 team member Jennifer Azzi next to her got a laugh in as Katy Stedding, a member of the ’96 Team wouldn’t let me go while taking pictures. In the middle are Lynn and Ceal Berry who were staff with the ’96 Team.
Third picture: The WNBA All-Stars vs. Team USA at the Michelob Ultra Arena. The WNBA All-Stars won and Arike’ Ogunbowale was named MVP of the game. That’s Sue Bird (#6) guarding the ball. Sue held a camp for the Stealers a few years ago.
Tuesday, July 13: Another day of learning for me. Also another day of seeing old friends and making new ones. The highlight of the day was the scrimmage between the Nigerian and Australian Women’s Teams. Standing court side you can feel the loyalty and passion the teams have for their countries. Due to COVID restrictions, only the teams, some of the consulate from Nigeria, Terri Ward (liaison for Australia) and myself were allowed in the facility. The experience working with Olympians up close has been wonderful so far. Seeing basketball at its’ highest level is a privilege.
The scrimmage was surrounded by seeing and doing the following:
Picture 1: The Australia / Nigeria scrimmage.
Picture 2: Handling all of the credentials for the Nigerian Women.
Picture 3: Running into former UNC Tar Heel Sam Perkins.
Picture 4: Seeing Notre’ Dame Alum Arike Ogunbowale who played on our U16 and U17 National Teams (same team as Katie Lou Samuelson in the July 12th post below) and who made the game winning 3-pointer in the 2018 National Championship Game. Also, with Arike was Dearica Hamby who played at Wake Forest. Dearica has been named WNBA sixth person of the year in back-to-back years.
Picture 5: The great Ruthie Bolton. Ruthie is a two time Olympic gold medalists, USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year and a Basketball Hall of Famer. Ruthie and I worked on the USA Basketball Olympic U16 and U17 Women’s National Team selection committee from 2009-2012. Haven’t seen Ruthie in awhile so it was good to catch up.
Monday, July 12: The Nigerian Women’s National Team arrived today. My day began with a walk to the Delano, where Nigeria is staying, and meet with the managers there as well as the connected Mandalay Bay. The walk back was a little warmer (HOT). I took my COVID test, got some lunch and my new friend Maria. who is one the transportation managers, took me over to the Delano. The managers gave me a quick tour of the floor that is reserved for Nigeria, then handed me the keys and the rooming assignments and it was time for me to get as organized as possible before the team’s arrival.
(First picture) Oderah Chidom played at Duke and is a part of the Nigerian Team (they are using this time in Las Vegas to pick their team). I introduced myself to her and told her I’m from North Carolina. I also told her that her college teammate Kyra Lambert is holding a basketball camp at The Maddawg Center this week. She said that she had just got off the phone with Kyra and had no idea. Again the small world of basketball.
(Second picture) When the Nigerian team arrived, ESPN reporter Holly Rowe was in the lobby and took pictures of the team.
(Third picture) I ran into Katie Lou Samuelson who played on the U16 and U17 Women’s National Team that I was an assistant coach for in 2013 and 2014. Katie went onto play at UCONN, and now is with the Seattle Storm. She plays for the USAB 3 on 3 team.
Earlier in the morning, following breakfast I went to the “behind the scenes” area where the USA Teams lifts and conditions and Greg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs and Team USA Men’s Head Coach) was working out. As stated in the Indianapolis blog, if I am working, no pictures and I didn’t take or ask for one. I also ran into Kara Lawson, Duke Women’s Head Coach and the USA Women’s 3 on 3 Head Coach. We actually talked about The Winston-Salem Stealers and basketball in NC for a few minutes. AGAIN, THE SMALL WORLD OF BASKETBALL.
Sunday, July 11: The first full day in Las Vegas for the Pre-Olympic Trials. The Nigerian Women’s Team arrives on Sunday so I’ve spent most of the day coordinating their arrival plans. Yes, it is HOT!!!! 113 degrees earlier today. 112 when I took a walk outside. Tomorrow I’ll have more for you, but for now, all good here.
BELOW : THE DAILY BLOG FROM INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA JULY 9-19
Coach Robinson is in Indianapolis, Indiana for the U16 Women’s Nationals Trials June 9-19. Travel from Greensboro to Charlotte and Charlotte to Indianapolis was smooth on Wednesday. This season’s trials are different naturally due to COVID-19. All of the sessions are closed to the public including no parents allowed. This blog will be different than those I’ve done in past years (HERE) because of USA Basketball’s COVID Policies. This will be the first of four USA Basketball opportunities this summer. In past years everyone has had lots of questions on my experiences with USAB so thus the reasoning for the blogs. This is my way of sharing the great big world of basketball at its’ highest level with you (as much as I can) and hoping you enjoy it.
Friday, June 18th: Trials have come to a close. The sixteen athletes will find out who made the team twelve person team this evening at 9:00 pm. You can find out who made it at www.usab.com. Tonight, after the team is selected, the support staff and I will pack all of the equipment and get it ready to be shipped back to Colorado Springs. I then have a quick turnaround as my bus leaves the hotel at 4:00 am to head to the airport. The flight is later that morning, but I need to escort some of the athletes to the airport and their flights are earlier. I’ll post some pictures on Facebook Teach TheGame, Instagram teach_the_game and Twitter @wsstealers. As always, I’ll post a vlog on @RisON2021 later this evening as well.
Thursday, June 17th: Started the day at 3:30 am. Had to escort the ones who didn’t make the final sixteen to the airport. All the flights were early ones which allowed all of us on the support staff to get to practice, at The Facility, on time which was 9:00 am. We had a second practice, which is really still part of trials because the team hasn’t been picked yet, from 4:00-6:00. We can’t go to indoor public places outside of the hotel so even though the Seattle Storm are in town to play the Indiana Fever we aren’t allowed to attend because of COVID protocols. The Pittsburgh Pirates AAA Team is playing across the street, but same thing, we can’t go. What’s the worst? There is a walkway to the convention center from our hotel. On the other side of the walkway, they are setting up for the Sweets and Snacks Expo that starts next week. Apparently any snack you want or can think of is being set up right down the hallway. Oh well….
Friday is our last full day in Indianapolis until August. The sixteen will be paired down to twelve and we will have our team selected. We all head back on Saturday.
Wednesday, June 16th: Two more days of trials has led to cut day. The group was cut from thirty-four to sixteen. Here is the link to the final sixteen: LINK. Got to get up early to get the kids who were cut to the airport and then off to two practices in the morning and then the evening. Lots to do, but it’s basketball and it’s a privilege to get to do a lot. Short but sweet tonight, but hopefully a little longer update on Thursday. Oh… and for those wondering… my mock picks for the top twelve to make the team… out of the sixteen left, ten of those sixteen were on my list… trying to keep my antenna up for what a USA Basketball player looks, acts and plays like.
Tuesday, June 15th: We are inching closer to cut day which will be tomorrow evening. The twelve person team will be selected and you can feel the intensity rising at each session. Realizing that you can be a part of the U16 National Team and also be part of the USA Basketball Family is a big deal. I think I have a good idea of who has a legit shot at making the team. There is always one or two that I may have missed, but for the most part, knowing that the committee is trying to select the twelve that make the best team versus the twelve best players gives me a little better idea on how to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Regardless, I’m glad to be at this level again. It really helps me see where the bar is nationally at the 16U age / grade group. That is something I can take back to our program(s) to make our kids better. If you’re wondering, yes, I did take some time to walk around Indianapolis today between trials. Went to the Whitewater River State Park, passing by the NCAA main office, the NCAA Hall of Champions and the National Federation of High School offices. Just want to take everything in while still doing my job.
Monday, June 14th: We moved over to The Factory today. The Factory is owned by DI, a national chain. Jeff and Marcus Teague are the sponsors (NBA). Trials are definitely seen through a different lense for me than in past years. The “show” has to run smoothly, with the “show” being the trials. I life being the behind the scenes and with the operational staff. One of our coaching staff members is Tom McConnell. Tom is the head women’s coach at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He and I got to talking and I found out that he was an assistant coach at Wake Forest for the men’s team back in the mid-1980s under Bob Stack. On top of that he is a big Pittsburgh Steelers Fan which always is good. He remembers a lot about his time in Winston-Salem and knows several folks that I know. Again… the small world of basketball.
Sunday, June 13th (evening): First day of competition at the trials. Now that I have done this for a number of years from a couple of different angles, it becomes clearer what to look for in potential Olympians. Obviously, the selection committee has their job to do which is pick the twelve players that fit the best so the team can win gold in August. I was on that committee from 2009-2012 and then was on the coaching side in 2013 and 2014. Now, being a part of the support staff, I get to see (some of) the behind-the-scenes preparation that goes into making everything run smoothly. It is just human nature that when trials start to get the coaching mind spinning. Speaking of behind-the-scenes, this morning our staff left at 6:20 am to setup Decatur Central HS. Our point of contact was Jill Merryman who served on the 2009 committee with me. She is the boys basketball coach there. After unpacking everything, we had to tape the FIBA lane lines and 3 point lines to the court (22.15 feet) which are wider and farther than the high school or college dimensions. We had to spread out chairs for the athletes in the four corners of the facility, then placed towels and water on each chair, and had to make sure that we followed all USA Basketball sponsor contracts as far as which labels we could use and not use for water and other products. Day #2 of trials is Monday with two more sessions: one in the morning and one in the evening.
Saturday, June 12th (evening): All of the players, coaches, referees and staff members are now in town. Today, most of the support staff went to The Factory and taped the FIBA 3 point line on the court while I made the airport run to pick up our head coach Sue Phillips and committee member Kevin Lynch. I posted a video on Twitter @RisON2021 about not burning bridges. Sue and I worked on the first U16 and U17 selection committee for USA Basketball in 2009 and 2010 and continued to do serve on that committee in 2011 and 2012. We then coached together in 2013 in Mexico and 2014 in the Czech Republic where we won gold medals each season. Kevin and I met in Dayton, Ohio in 2003 at the U13 AAU DI Nationals. Our team then was led by LaShaunda Pratt who went onto play at Boston College and Brittany Strachan who played at N.C. State. He was doing some evaluating at the time when we first met. Now we are all working together in 2021 in Indianapolis. The basketball world / community is very, very tight and there are definitely levels to the community. Tomorrow, the players get on the court for the first time since arriving in Indianapolis so that is exciting. Speaking of not burning bridges, you may be seeing commercials for Space Jam II with LeBron James. There is a reference to the “White Mamba”. One of my friends who was part of our WBCA HS All-American Team in 2012 is playing the character of the “White Mamba”. She and I talked a couple of weeks ago and we talked about the Stealers and how the program has grown over the years. Again, it’s a small world / community of basketball relationships and don’t burn bridges.
Friday, June 11th (evening): We had a morning meeting to cover the upcoming tryouts (trials) and broke for lunch. I decided to take a walk around Indianapolis before my 1:00 conference call. I walked the Cultural Trail first, and then walked over to IUPUI where the U.S. Olympic Diving Team Trials were taking place (at the natatorium). I didn’t get the opportunity to watch the trials in person today, but several of the athletes are in our hotel. I learned today that some of the divers (and swimmers) like being in Indianapolis because the water is fast. Never knew that was a thing (water in competitions being fast).
The 1:00 conference call was about the future Las Vegas trip in July for the Pre-Olympic Training and Exhibition Games. There was A LOT of information to process in the hour meeting and there will be a lot of responsibility in a highly focused and intense setting in Vegas (including leading up to it), but that has always been the case when working with USAB. This opportunity will just be taking it up a notch which, again, is great because you get to observe, learn and work from and with the best in the world at the highest level. Obviously, more information about this process will come later.
For now, my focus is on the task at hand which is to help handle the operations for the U16s and the trials.
Thursday, June 10th (evening): Spent most of the day at the airport picking up the athletes. I’ve stated this before in past years with USA Basketball, but I’m always impressed with the efficiency of “getting things done” with this organization. Some of it has to do with teamwork, but most of it is just preparation. Everyone does their job and is a star in their role, then together, the job is done with little or no problems. When something does come up to throw things off, you adjust, keep it moving and make it work. Today, our four member team picked up thirty-two athletes and our trainer (from DePaul University) with little or no issue despite some missed flights and some delays. The remainder of the day was self-quarantine and some COVID testing. As promised, I am doing some very brief vlogs on a dedicated Twitter account @RisON2021. I hope to do as many as I can throughout the summer so you can share the experience.
Thursday, June 10th (morning):
The day is about to begin with pickup of the athletes at the Indianapolis Airport. This will take place most all day since everyone has a different flight schedule. Also, we can expect delays and what not. In the meantime, here is a press release for the USA Men’s and Women’s Teams playing Pre-Olympic Games in Las Vegas during July: LINK.
Wednesday, June 9th:
As stated travel went well. We hit the ground running with meetings and testing shortly after arrival. Being part of USA Basketball in any shape, form or fashion is a privilege. USAB is at the top of the basketball world. It’s above the NBA, WNBA, NCAA, AAU, High School and such. I’ve been fortunate for the past sixteen years to be a part of USAB in a variety of positions: Olympic Festival Coach, U16 and U17 National Team Selection Committee, U16 and U17 Coaching Staff, Youth Development Ambassador, Gold License Advisory Committee, 3 v 3, Speaker, and other areas. Now I am getting the opportunity to be part of the support staff for the U16 Women’s National Trials. It’s a three person committee: Terri Ward who is President of Colorado’s Coaches of Girls Sports, Sarah Gayler who works for the Milwaukee Bucks in their operations department and myself. This year, USAB trials are in Indianapolis as opposed to Colorado Springs and the Olympic Training Center due to Covid.
One of the questions I always get when I come back home after a USAB experience is did I meet anyone famous and if so, how did I handle that meeting? As a general statement, working with USAB means that you are working with the best in the basketball world so you are going to run into “celebrities”. There is a choice that takes place when you meet someone famous: 1) Understand that everyone, including the celebrity, is part of USA Basketball and we are working towards the same goal which is to help our country win a gold medal, or 2) Act like a “fan” and ask for autographs and take pictures. My way of handling these encounters is that whatever job is in front of me that needs to be done has to be the priority. If and when there is a break where we are either beginning the day, in the middle of the day, or done for the day and the “celebrity” is not in the middle of something, then yes, I’ll get a picture. Besides that, it’s a passing “hello” and keep it moving no matter who it is. I think choosing to be a “fan” = I wouldn’t be around USA Basketball very long.
I’ve posted a few pictures below over the years of some of the events and people I’ve met through USAB. There is also a picture with Coach K, Tony Bennett and Jim Boeheim on the front page of this website from USAB in 2014. First picture is Michael Phelps at the Olympic Training Center Dining Hall in Colorado Springs, CO. Beside that picture, the next three pictures are NBA Players (see if you can name them all) at the Olympic Tryouts held at UNLV in Las Vegas. The final picture is Russell Wilson at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO. Beside him is his sister Anna who just won a national championship at Stanford this past season. Again, it’s a privilege to be able to be a part of USAB and to then share some moments with you (can’t share them all).