USA Basketball preaches “gold habits” and “gold standards,” and it paid off in gold medals.
UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close served as an assistant coach with the USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team and led it to an 84-60 first-place victory over Canada in the International Basketball Federation’s U18 Americas U18 Championship 2018 hosted in Mexico City on Tuesday.
“To watch their faces as they got that gold put around their neck was a really unique experience,” Close said. “It wasn’t about me, or anyone on the coaching staff – it was about USA Basketball, and our responsibility to continue to set the standard of what world elite basketball is all about.”
Close spent three weeks with the U18 team – running training camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, before departing for Mexico City.
The USA U18 team trials were held at the end of May to select the 12-member squad. The tournament featured eight teams from around the world, and the top four teams qualified for the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup.
The U18 team finished at 6-0 in the tournament and dominated its opponents, winning by an average of 47.5 points per game. Despite trailing by four points in the first quarter of the final game, Close said the team didn’t need motivation to make adjustments.
“If you have to motivate them, then they don’t get what playing with USA Basketball is all about,” Close said.
The United States has won the last eight FIBA championships – which have been held every other year since 2004.
“On the world side, there is not as big of a gap as there used to be and I think we’re still ahead, but not by as big a margin,” Close said. “I think USA Basketball just reminded me that we need to continue to grow the game in the U.S.”
USA Basketball welcomed Close as a court coach at the 2017 USA Women’s U23 National Team Training Camp, but this was her debut coaching in games.
The U18 team was comprised of players that had never played a collegiate game before, so Close said it was valuable to have three weeks to develop them – as opposed to the few days she spent with last year’s U23 team.
“This was a completely different age group,” Close said. “And this was almost three weeks, and having a chance to really develop relationships – not only pour into them as basketball players but trying to invest in them as people.”
Close said she also learned a lot from the rest of the coaching staff. Louisville coach Jeff Walz served as head coach, while Delaware coach Natasha Adair joined Close as an assistant coach.
“To watch (Adair) interact with our players was really inspiring,” Close said. “And Jeff Walz is just brilliant when it comes to in-game situations.”
Close – who began running official team practices with the Bruins last week – said she has already begun to implement things she learned from USA Basketball into UCLA practices.
“I think I’m going to be a better coach for UCLA this year as a result of this (USA Basketball) experience,” Close said.