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Maryland women’s basketball’s national team experience ‘speaks volumes’ of the program

Maryland women’s basketball’s national team experience ‘speaks volumes’ of the program
Maryland guard Taylor Mikesell will keep for Team USA next month in the U.S. Pan American Games. (Katherine Frey / The Washington Post)

After grueling trials against the best of the best, Taylor Mikesell and Diamond Miller were shocked and honored to hear that they had made it onto a Team USA roster.

Mikesell, a sophomore guard for the Maryland women’s basketball team, will represent her school and the United States in Peru at the Pan American Games, while Miller, an incoming Terps freshman and five-star prospect, will compete in Thailand on the U.S. Under-19 World Cup team.

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Having two players on Maryland’s 2019-20 roster make national teams is a huge honor for the program, coach Brenda Frese said.

“It speaks volumes of our program that so many players are selected because it’s such a small number that actually get to make these teams,” Frese said. “Hopefully, it speaks volumes of our program that we prepare our players.”

A big part of Maryland’s recruiting approach is player development, and Team USA roster spots give Maryland’s message a foundation.

“We spend a lot of time on that [message],” Frese said. “So that piece is to get them ready for the next level — USA basketball, overseas, WNBA, when they have those dreams.”

It was part of what drew Miller, the New Jersey Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year and ESPN’s No. 17 overall prospect, to Maryland. She didn’t know much about the university when they first reached out to her, but she did her research and quickly realized “they can ball there,” she said.

Maryland players representing the U.S. don’t just boost the program’s image — they also make the team stronger.

“I think there’s another layer of confidence and leadership,” Frese said.

Mikesell and Miller will both be playing with older players, which Frese said will show them that they can compete at a higher level.

Mikesell’s birthday was just one month after the cutoff for the age group most rising sophomores play in, so she will be competing with mostly juniors and seniors. It’s taught her that “age doesn’t mean anything.”

The lesson will be especially important for Miller, who is about to make the transition to college. She’ll be playing with people with college experience. She’ll also be playing with something to prove.

After a tryout in which she thought she performed well enough to make the team, Miller was named as an alternate. She said the position was an honor, but it was shocking to her nonetheless.

On July 2, Miller got a call that Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith withdrew, and she was chosen to replace her. As Miller trained in Colorado Springs, Colo., and scrimmaged against Japan on July 13-15, she took advantage of her second chance and played with a chip on her shoulder.

“Everything is a lot more for me, I feel like,” Miller said. “I mean, these girls made the team, and I didn't. And even though they don't treat me like that, I still feel like I know I was an alternate, and I know I have to work extra hard to show myself.”

The pressure will help Miller and Mikesell prepare for the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament, Frese said. The national team will also help them learn to play in different environments, since they’ll be miles away from U.S. borders.

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Team USA gave both Miller and Mikesell their first international travel experiences, which Mikesell said taught her to adapt to different situations. Mikesell made the 2017 U16 World Cup team and had the chance to go to France and Spain, where the U.S. won bronze. Miller was on the 2017 U16 national team that took home gold from the FIBA Americas championship in Argentina.

This year is different, though Mikesell said. She doesn’t think it fully sank in for her as a sophomore what representing America means. It still hasn’t, and she’s not sure it will until the tournament is over.

Mikesell will compete in the Pan American Games from Aug. 6-10. The U.S. is in a pool with Argentina, Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The U.S. won silver in 2015.

The FIBA U19 World Cup will tip off July 20 in Bangkok, Thailand, and the final game will be July 28. Miller will play with a U.S. team competing for its eighth gold medal in a division with Australia, South Korea and Hungary.

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