Blue Springs' Williams, Grain Valley's Slaughter named to USA national women's U16 team
INDIANAPOLIS — Two of the 12 who have been named to the 2021 USA Basketball Women's U16 National Team hail from Eastern Jackson County.
Grain Valley’s Grace Slaughter and Blue Springs’ Jada Williams were named to the national team that was announced late Friday night after a week of trials in Indianapolis.
They made the final cut of 12 after eight trial sessions that featured 34 athletes from across the country.
Slaughter and Williams just completed their sophomore seasons at Grain Valley High School and Blue Springs High School, respectively. Both have been all-state selections their first two seasons in high school and both have been highly recruited.
Slaughter and Williams, who have been AAU teammates with Phenom Basketball, said the actual announcement to the team was a bit nerve-wracking.
"They had us in a room, and we were socially distanced, sitting at the same table where we ate and were tested for COVID," Slaughter, who has verbally committed to Missouri, explained by phone. "And they called off our names alphabetically – so I'm counting along and I was No. 10 and Jada was No. 12, the last player called – only because her last name started with a W!"
Williams was basically doing the same thing, as she followed the players' alphabetical countdown.
"My last name would start with a W," Williams said by phone, chuckling. "I was last to be called and it was worth the wait!"
Both players are not only thrilled to represent their respective high schools and communities, but their country as well.
"Unbelievable," Williams, who has made a verbal commitment to UCLA, said just moments after she called family members to give them the good news. "I am smiling from ear to ear. I wish I could tell you how happy I am, but I'm speechless. This is huge, so big, so exciting and I get to share it with Grace.
"We're putting Kansas City basketball on the map. And we get to represent our schools and our country."
The 34 finalists were selected by the USA Basketball Women’s Developmental National Team Committee. That was whittled down to 16 finalists on Thursday and the final 12 were chosen Friday.
"I have never been on my game for an entire week like this past week," added Williams, who along with Slaughter, was featured in many of the videos provided by USA Basketball on Twitter because members of the media were not allowed at practice sessions due to COVID protocol.
"Grace and I have been playing with and against the best girls in the country. This is an experience I will always remember. I know my mom and I said a lot of prayers this week, and they were answered. I have followed God's path and I want to honor him anyway I can."
Slaughter said she savored every moment of the trials, but especially enjoyed being on the court with her good friend Williams.
"We just had this great chemistry all week," Slaughter said. "It was all so amazing. She and I get to represent our high schools, and our country. I can't wait to wear USA across my chest."
Coach Sue Phillips said it was difficult determining the final 12 players.
“The past two days were extremely competitive, which made it incredibly difficult to get down to 12 players,” said Phillips, who is serving for a second time as the USA U16 National Team head coach after having led the 2013 USA U16 squad to a gold medal.
“It’s never an easy decision to have to cut players who gave everything they had, but we feel that the 12 players we will be taking to Chile for the FIBA Americas U16s will give us the best opportunity to continue the USA’s success at the event and bring home another gold medal. This team has a lot of versatility, which is important in these competitions, and immense talent for this age level. I’m really happy with this team and I can’t wait to get back together for training camp in August.”
Team members will return to USA Basketball for training camp on Aug. 4, to prepare for the 2021 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, which is scheduled for Aug. 16-22 in Santiago, Chile.
Slaughter and Williams are among five athletes who had prior USA Basketball experience after participating in the 2019 USA U16 National Team trials.