Taylor Murray had been waiting for this moment for two years.
After trying out for the 2011 USA Basketball under-16 women's national team as a 14-year-old but not making the team, the Annapolis Area Christian rising junior had this year's tryouts circled on her calendar — her second shot to prove herself as one of the nation's top players.
After four days of workouts last month in Colorado, Murray learned on May 27 that she was on the team. C.H. Flowers' De'Janae Boykin, one of Murray's former Amateur Athletic Union teammates, also made the squad, which will compete in the FIBA Americas U16 championships in Cancun, Mexico, from Wednesday through Sunday.
"When I first found out, I was very excited because I had worked really hard," Murray said. "It was something that I was really looking forward to, so I just pushed myself every game and took it one day at a time."
During the tryouts, 124 girls competed for 12 spots on the team. Thirty-one players were invited to try out for the under-16 team, while 93 — including the 16-year-old Murray — had to apply for a place at the workouts.
The 5-foot-6 point guard, who was one of two applicants to make the final roster, said the lack of an invitation to the tryouts didn't prevent her from working to achieve her goal.
"I wouldn't really say it was different, you just have to come ready to play," Murray said. "It was either you play or you go home. It was mostly you just play hard and finish strong."
Murray's leadership on the court, her ability to finish around the rim and her speed — especially on defense — caught the attention of U.S. under-16 women's basketball coach Sue Phillips during the tryouts.
"I thought she did a tremendous job controlling the team and the tempo, understanding times to score, going to the basket when appropriate, sending it to the post when appropriate," Phillips said. "She showed signs of being a great leader. We need a floor general out there, and that's what we hope to have in our point guard."
Those attributes aren't new to coaches who've seen her play before, though.
Murray led the Fairfax Stars to three straight AAU national championships from 2008 to 2010, and she was a part of the Philly Belles AAU squad that won the under-15 Boo Williams Invitational this year.
"She just always seems to show up for the big games," Philly Belles coach Matt Bamford said. "This year, we won the Boo Williams tournament and she led the way. She runs the show.
"To be honest, her biggest asset to a team, I believe, is she makes other kids better. As a coach, that's what you want out of your point guard. You don't really understand that until she's in your backcourt running stuff. She makes every kid out there better."
At Annapolis Area Christian, Murray jelled with a tight-knit group of seniors during her freshman year as the Eagles won the second Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland C Conference championship in school history.
But like any star player, Murray knows when to score. As the most experienced of seven sophomores on an Annapolis Area Christian team that moved up to the IAAM B Conference last winter, the point guard learned to take a bigger role in the offense.
During a Jan. 30 game against Notre Dame Prep, Murray scored a school-record 33 second-half points after sitting on the bench in foul trouble in the first half — something Annapolis Area Christian coach Jim Domoracki said makes her a special player.
"When you watch Taylor play, just her demeanor on the court, she's cool under pressure," Domoracki said. "She's a very even-keeled player. She does whatever it takes for her team to be in control of the game.
"If you watch her play with the Philly Belles and other girls who are extremely talented, there's times where she's purely a distributor, [and] there's times where she will have to score. For our team, she has to score. It's not necessarily that she has to score, but when she comes out aggressively and scores early, it settles the rest of the girls down."
Domoracki and Bamford have recognized Murray's potential, and both played key roles in preparing her for the U.S. under-16 team tryouts.
As she's growing into the spotlight, though, college coaches are calling. Domoracki and Bamford said they receive calls about Murray on a regular basis, and Murray has already visited Penn State while planning visits to Duke and Michigan.
With two years of high school left, however, she's just beginning the recruiting process. But as the No. 17 player in the 2015 ESPN HoopGurlz Terrific 25, Murray will expect additional letters of interest from colleges, especially after her time with the U.S. under-16 team.
"Whenever calls come in — they come in all the time from all over the country," Domoracki said. "Obviously now, with her making this team, it's gonna get more intense. I speak with coaches directly, and they speak with her mom [Sonya]. We try to protect Taylor as much as possible, she's only 16. She has two more years to go, [but] any program in the country would be happy to have Taylor."
And Murray, who has already waited two years for one opportunity to prove she belongs, will gladly do it again.
2013 FIBA Americas under-16 championships
Where: Cancun, Mexico
When: June 19-23
More information: USABasketball.com
U.S. schedule (EDT):
June 19: Brazil, 7 p.m.
June 20: Argentina, 7 p.m.
June 21: Costa Rica, 3 p.m.
June 22: Semifinals TBA
June 23: Finals TBACopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun