The calendar, location, and teammates - most of them, anyway - have changed, but Crystal Dangerfield’s situation with the UConn women’s basketball team in June and the United States U-19 national team in July are rather similar.
The Huskies’ sophomore point guard spent five weeks in Storrs trying to help her freshman teammates adjust to college life and basketball by sharing her experiences from a season ago.
“I tell them my stories from last year and I have a lot of them,” Dangerfield said. “I think … No, I know, it will be different for each of them and it is going to be hard. But I want them to know I’ll be there to listen and to talk to them.”
As she and freshman Megan Walker head to Colorado Springs, Colorado for a week-long training camp before the U-19 team travels to Italy for the FIBA U-19 World Cup, Dangerfield has more experience to share. She is the only player on the squad that was a part of the 2015 gold-medal winning U-19 team that held off host Russia 78-70 in the final game in Chekhov, Russia.
“It was like the whole country of Russia was in that gym cheering against us,” Dangerfield said. “I want my teammates to understand that it is really us against the world. But everybody’s excited for the tournament and we know we're going to have to work hard. We’re ready to get going.”
Team USA begins camp on Saturday. The Americans will travel to Italy on July 15 and participate in a round-robin tournament with Italy, Latvia, and Spain from July 17-19. On July 20, they will scrimmage France.
The World Cup begins July 22 with Team USA facing Mali, China, and Italy in Group A pool play. All teams advance to the round of 16 on July 26. The quarterfinals are July 28, the semifinals July 29 and the bronze and gold-medal games July 30.
“I think we’re going to be good,” Walker said. “We played well together when we were at the trials in May. We got a feel for what things will be like. I want to be a leader with my experience and by example.”
Team USA qualified for the U-19 World Cup by winning the gold medal at the 2016 FIBA Americas U-18 Championships. Only five players from the U-18 team - including Walker - are on the U-19 club. Dangerfield made the U-18 team at trials a year ago but had to withdraw with a hip injury that required surgery.
Walker averaged 9.6 points and 2.8 rebounds a year ago in helping Team USA to a 5-0 record in the U-18 event in Chile.
The Chesterfield, Virginia, native wrapped up her stay at UConn a week ago, taking summer classes while also learning from her upperclassmen teammates.
“They did a good job of showing us the ropes and showing us the way things need to get done,” Walker said. “They’ve given us words of encouragement while also leading by example.”
Dangerfield averaged 6.4 points, 2.7 assists, and 2.0 steals in seven games at the 2015 U-19 world championships. The Murfreesboro, Tennessee, native is seeking her third gold medal to go with the one she also won at the 2013 FIBA Americas U-16 Championships.
With a first-place finish in Italy, she would join former UConn players Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck, former Baylor guard Alexis Jones, and South Carolina senior A'ja Wilson as the only players with two U-19 gold medals.
“We can do it just by playing hard and playing scrappy” Dangerfield said. “Every team is good and they want to win and, of course, they want to beat the United States. So we have to be ready and bring the energy we need every day to be successful.”
Team USA is coached by Pittsburgh’s Suzie McConnell-Serio and also includes UConn Class of 2018 recruiting target Christyn Williams, a guard from Little Rock, Arkansas.
After the World Cup, Dangerfield and Walker will have a quick turnaround and head back to UConn as the Huskies prepare for an 11-day tour of Italy in August.
“That's exciting,” Walker said. “I’ve never been to Italy so it’s great that I’ll get to enjoy it twice.”