Grain Valley's Grace Slaughter returns home with gold

Bill Althaus
The Examiner/USA Today Network

Grace Slaughter had perhaps the best excuse ever to miss the first week of classes at Grain Valley High School. 

The two-time Examiner Girls Basketball Player of the Year just returned from Guanajuato, Mexico, where she helped Team USA rout Canada 118-45 to win the FIBA Americas U16 Women's Championship gold medal. 

When asked about miss the first week of school, she grinned and said, "I'd have to say the best excuse for missing the first week of school is bringing this back to the States." 

She was holding her gold medal.  

Grain Valley High School junior Grace Slaughter shows off her gold medal to her family after returning from Mexico, where she helped lead Team USA to the title of the FIBA Americas U16 Women's Championship.

Slaughter, a junior at Grain Valley, averaged 8.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game and starred on defense for the USA team that went 6-0 and outscored their opponents by an average of 119-31. No opponent scored more than 45 points against the young American squad, and that happened in the title game against Canada. 

"It was one of the greatest experiences of my life," said Slaughter, who, along with her teammates and coaches, spent the past 18 days in a bubble – nine in Washington, D.C., where they practiced, and nine in Mexico, where they played. 

More:Team USA's Grace Slaughter celebrated by family, friends after FIBA Americas opener

They were able to eat, socially distance and practice against each other but they were all in single rooms and had no gatherings away from the gymnasium. 

"I had to learn to grow up really fast," said Slaughter, whose father Brian made the trip to Mexico even though he was never able to communicate in person with his daughter. 

But he said it was all worthwhile, watching Grace play on an international stage.

Grain Valley junior Grace Slaughter poses with her family after returning from Mexico, where she helped lead Team USA to the gold medal in the FIBA Americas U16 Women's Championship.

"We were able to wave to each other – me from the stands and Grace from the court – and that was about it," Brian said. "She loves Pringles and I wanted to take some to her at her hotel, and I could not go into the hotel. I had to call the hotel, tell them I was leaving something for her on the porch and a member of the staff came out and got it and took it to her." 

When Grace, her father and mother, Becky, who drove to the airport to pick them up, arrived back at their home in Grain Valley they were greeted by family members who were all wearing handmade gold medals. 

In all the excitement, Grace left her gold medal in the car, and had to go retrieve it. 

"This is all so surreal, I still don't believe it," Grace said. "I learned a lot of ways to spend all that time in a hotel room – texting and talking to my family and teammates and reading and watching TV."

More:Blue Springs' Williams, Grain Valley's Slaughter named to USA national women's U16 team

Slaughter – who Eagles coach Randy Draper said, "Is one of the, if not the, hardest working players he ever coached" – is looking ahead to her junior year of high school ball. 

"I learned so much playing on the U.S. team and practicing with and against the best players in the country," said Grace, who has verbally committed to Missouri. "Now I just want to get back to work and be the best player I can be for Grain Valley High School." 

Former Blue Springs High School standout Jada Williams, a two-time all-state point guard, averaged 12 points per game for the U.S. squad. 

She is leaving Blue Springs to play at La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, Calif. Williams has committed to attend UCLA.