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.
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).