When Sylvia Fowles heard the USA Basketball Women’s National Team was training at the University of Miami this week on its way to the AmeriCup tournament in Puerto Rico, she immediately signed up. It was a no-brainer.
Fowles, the two-time WNBA Most Valuable Player with the Minnesota Lynx, is a Miami native and led Edison High and Gulliver Prep to state titles. She lives in Cutler Bay, runs a charity in South Florida and spends time here every chance she gets.
“To be 20 minutes away, right up the street, sleeping in my own bed is amazing,” said Fowles, a 6-foot-6 center. “I’m going to hit up Snappers in the city for my seafood craving, and there are a few Haitian places I need to get to. When they said they are hosting a camp here in Miami, I took a lot of pride and I want to make sure we have fun while we’re here.”
Among the seven college players invited to train with the national team are two University of Miami Hurricanes — 6-4 senior center Beatrice Mompremier and 5-4 junior guard Mykea Gray. Although neither might get to travel to Puerto Rico for the tournament, Sept. 22-29, practicing three days alongside veterans such as Fowles, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and Tina Charles is an invaluable experience.
Gray admitted she was a bit nervous, but a pep talk from her parents and UM coach Katie Meier helped. Her parents told her to pray, eat and stay hydrated.
“This was a wonderful experience, I mean, I was shooting with Skylar Diggins and I was like, `Wow, I used to watch you on TV’ and I was asking Sue Bird and Taurasi questions,” Gray said. “They were really helpful with everything... I never imagined I’d be on the court with Sylvia Fowles.
“This has always been a dream to be with pros and see if I could compete with them. I’m trying to make a statement to show that a short guard from Miami can get it done, as well. I spend a lot of nights and hours in this gym, a court I am so familiar with, so that helped me with my confidence a lot.”
Meier, who coached the USA Basketball U18 and U19 teams to gold medals, received hugs from several players and watched her Hurricanes players with pride.
“Bea has played some for the USA, and for Mykea, this is a great experience,” Meier said. “This summer she wore USA because she played in a 3-on-3 championships in Las Vegas, so I knew she could handle it. They are both seeing what it’s like to compete at the next level.”
Taurasi, the 37-year-old Phoenix Mercury guard, said she hadn’t been to Miami in 19 years, since she was with the USA U19 team. She was happy to share the floor with Gray and Mompremier.
“It’s intimidating for them, I’m sure,” Taurasi said. “I can remember the first time I stepped on the court with Lisa Leslie, Dawn Staley, Sheryl Swoopes. I was just a little kid in college. But these girls did well, showed they belong out there. What a cool experience for them to be able to do this in their gym, at their school.”
Fowles was also impressed.
“It’s a whirlwind for them because things are going so fast, but they did a really good job,” Fowles said. “Not everybody gets this opportunity, so I’d tell them not to take it for granted. It’s a blessing to be here. Also, they get to see different kinds of leadership, work with some of the best point guards like Sue Bird so that can really help their game.”
In addition to Taurasi, Fowles, Bird (Seattle Storm) and Diggins-Smith (Dallas Wings), other players on the team include Chelsea Gray (L.A. Sparks), Nneka Ogwumike (Sparks), A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces), and Diamond DeShields (Chicago Sky).
Bird is coming off May knee surgery, and Diggins-Smith had a baby in April. They have not been cleared to play, but are participating in meetings and some on-court work.
The AmeriCup is a 10-nation tournament that serves as a pre-Olympic qualifier. Group A is Canada, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Puerto Rico. Team USA, which has already qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, is in Group B against Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Paraguay.
“We only have three days to prepare, and some players are not here because of the WNBA playoffs, but as a coach, you just move forward and can’t think about who’s not here,” said USA coach Staley. “Our culture and culture lends to blocking out what you can’t control. Our players know what they have to do. Ultimately, we want to get in good preparation for the Olympics.”