May 22, 2014
By David Dawson
Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb is temporarily changing her color scheme.
Instead of donning her customary black-and-gold coaching attire, Balcomb will be wearing red, white and blue next week when she resumes her duties as a member of the USA Basketball Junior National Team Committee.
Balcomb -- who was appointed to the Committee last year for the 2013-16 quadrennium -- will be traveling to Colorado for the USA Basketball Women's U18 National Team Trials. Balcomb will be one of five committee members who will observe and assess the players during the Team Trials, which will take place May 24-26 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
At the end of the three days, Balcomb and her fellow committee members will compare notes and ultimately select the 12-member team that will will compete in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship from Aug. 6-10.
Balcomb said she enjoys her role on the committee, and is excited about seeing many of the top players in the nation -- including incoming Vanderbilt freshman Paris Kea -- going head-to-head while vying for a spot on the USA National team.
"I think what's neat is that we've seen a lot of these kids on the road (while we were) recruiting over the past couple years and we are very familiar with the talent levels and the players," Balcomb said. "This is a unique experience in that they get to play against each other -- the top kids in the nation. ... And it's exciting for me, as a women's basketball coach, to be able to see the future of women's college basketball."
Balcomb is especially eager to see Kea in action against top-caliber competition, as the standout from Page High (Greensboro, N.C.) prepares for her upcoming career at Vanderbilt. Kea was a three-time AP All-State First Team selection in high school, and averaged 24.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as a senior.
"Being able to watch Paris Kea -- that will be exciting for me," said Balcomb, noting that she was able to watch Vanderbilt players Jasmine Lister, Marqu'es Webb and Rebekah Dahlman in this same setting last year. "For me to be able to see (Paris) against the elite players and see how she responds and how she reacts -- that is something to really look forward to."
Balcomb said Kea's experience at the trials will be excellent preparation for the level of play she will see in college.
"I don't think there is anything better for her," Balcomb said. "Just getting to go to a trial and compete with the elite players -- the best of the best -- is great for her. I don't think there is anything she could do, at her age, that would compare to this."
Balcomb said serving on the committee brings out a feeling of national pride for her: "The first time you are in the arena with USA on the floor, you really realize how proud you are. You realize what that means. It's really neat."
The USA committee is chaired by former Vanderbilt women's head coach Jim Foster, who is now the head coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga and has also coached at Ohio State during his legendary career.
"It's been really good for me to be around Jim Foster," said Balcomb. "I met him years ago when he was the head coach at Vanderbilt and I was the head coach at Xavier. He came and met with (the late) Skip Prosser, our men's coach at the time, to do some Xs and Os in the offseason, and Skip invited me to join them. And that's really the first time I got to sit down and talk to Jim.
"Then, eventually, we (Xavier) ended up scheduling them (Vanderbilt) and played them in a home-home series. Then I got the opportunity to be the coach at Vanderbilt when Jim left to go to Ohio State. ... I have always had a lot of respect for him as a person and a coach. I've coached players that played for him. And one of the reasons I came to Vanderbilt was because the tradition and the history of success that he had built here with the women's basketball program. ... I've really enjoyed getting to know him, and I've learned a lot from him."
Other committee members include Lindsay Gottlieb (University of California) and Joi Williams (University of Central Florida); and 2008 Olympic gold medalist Kara Lawson (athlete representative).
Balcomb said the committee members have some in-depth conversations when deliberating on the roster for the USA Team.
"Everybody on the committee has their own opinions and voices those opinions," she said. "And that's one of the things that I really like about Jim -- he wants people on the committee to have opinions. He doesn't just want `yes people' and people who just agree with what he says. So, we all give our opinions and our feedback. Sometimes they are very similar and sometimes they are very different. It doesn't get heated; there's nothing to get heated about. Everyone is very respectful. But there is heavy debate after every session.
"It's hard work," she said. "We're up late into the night because we want to do a great job and get the best possible team to represent the USA."
USA TRIALS ROSTER:
USA TRIALS SCHEDULE:
USA U18 TEAM TRIAL PLAYERS
Lyneé Belton (The Bullis School / Clinton, Md.); Monique Billings (Santiago H.S. / Corona, Calif.); Receé Caldwell (Homeschooled / San Antonio, Texas); Sierra Calhoun (Christ the King H.S. / Brooklyn, N.Y.); Batouly Camara (Blair Academy / New York, N.Y.); Napheesa Collier (Incarnate Word Academy / O'Fallon, Mo.); Mikayla Cowling (St. Mary's College H.S. / Benicia, Calif.); Sophie Cunningham (Rock Bridge H.S. / Columbia, Mo.); LaJahna Drummer (Long Beach Poly H.S. / Inglewood, Calif.); Kortney Dunbar (Edwardsville H.S. / Edwardsville, Ill.); Jamasha 'Meme' Jackson (Blackman H.S. / Murfreesboro, Tenn.); Jazmine Jones (Florida A&M H.S. / Tallahassee, Fla.); Moné Jones (Riverside H.S. / Durham, N.C.); Paris Kea (Greensboro Page H.S. / Greensboro, N.C.); Kyra Lambert (Samuel Clemens H.S. / Schertz, Texas); Marina Mabrey (Manasquan H.S. / Manasquan, N.J.); Teaira McCowan (Brenham H.S. / Brenham, Texas); Beatrice Mompremier (Miami H.S. / Miami, Fla.); Mariya Moore (Salesian H.S. / Richmond, Calif.); Ali Patberg (Columbus North H.S. / Columbus, Ind.); Cierra Porter (Rock Bridge H.S. / Columbia, Mo.); Jessica Shepard (Fremont H.S. / Fremont, Neb.); Azura Stevens (Cary H.S. / Raleigh, N.C.); Brianna Turner (Manvel H.S / Pearland, Texas); Destinee Walker (Lake Highland Prep School / Ocoee, Fla.); Steph Watts (Weddington H.S. / Wesley Chapel, N.C); and A'ja Wilson (Heathwood Hall H.S. / Hopkins, S.C.). COACHES
University of South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley is the USA U18 National Team head coach. Joining Staley on the sideline as assistants are collegiate head coaches Kim Barnes Arico (University of Michigan) and Jeff Walz (University of Louisville). Jackie Carson (Furman University) and Stefanie Pemper (U.S. Naval Academy) will serve as court coaches during the U18 trials.