It’s spring and USA Basketball teams are forming, practicing and gearing up to play. Around these parts that means a lot of Brenda Frese’s players are on the road and slipping into red, white and blue uniforms.
The Terrapins were 26-3 and ninth in the final Associated Press poll this past year, and their two leading scorers — Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller — are suiting up for the USA team that will compete in the FIBA AmeriCup June 11-19 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Baltimore’s Angel Reese is headed to tryouts this week for the USA Under-19 World Cup team in Denver, Colo. Another Terp, sophomore Taisiya Kozlova, from Moscow, will be trying out for the Russian Under-20 team.
“Yes, they’re all talented players, but [team organizers] are looking for more — players who can play together, are unselfish and more concerned with the name on the front of the jersey than the one on the back,” said Frese, who has sent so many of her Terrapins to trials and international competitions throughout the years.
From 20 players invited to the tryouts this spring, Miller and Owusu were among the 13 finalists for the AmeriCup team which will compete to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. The roster will trim to 12 just before leaving for Puerto Rico in mid-June.
“It’s so important because just going to the trials means they think you’re one of the best players in the country,” said Miller, who helped USA Basketball’s 2019 U19 team to the gold medal at the World Cup in Thailand. “To wear ‘USA’ across your chest, I feel you’re representing more than anything you ever have before. It’s for you, your family, where you’re from and your country.”
Owusu, part of the 2016 trials for the U17 World Cup team, agreed, and like Miller, also relishes the competitive portion of the honor.
“It’s definitely a chance to prove yourself and to also go up against some of the best competition in college,” Owusu said. “I feel like being invited and playing at USA is a win-win, too, whether you make it or not. It’s a great learning experience.”
Owusu and Miller fueled Maryland’s fifth Big Ten tournament title run this year, named co-Most Outstanding Players. Owusu, the Woodbridge, Va., native, earned third-team All-America honors for AP and the United States Basketball Writers Association. The unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection led the nation’s top scoring offense with 17.9 points, 5.9 assists and a 1.70 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The 6-foot combo guard had the top scoring average for a sophomore in the history of Maryland women’s basketball and won the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award as the top shooting guard in the country.
Miller, the 6-foot-3 guard/forward, averaged 17.3 points and shot 50.6 percent from the field. She had a streak of 27 consecutive games in double figures. The Somerset, N.J., native was also a first-team All-Big Ten selection and her game seems to be growing.
Despite the team and individual success, though, the Terrapins’ season didn’t end the way the stars hoped. A No. 2 seed, Maryland was finally slowed in a 64-61 Sweet 16 loss to Texas. Miller had 21 points and eight rebounds in a game that had nine lead changes and saw Maryland squander an early 11-point lead.
“We had a great season, but it ended a way we didn’t want to end,” Miller said. “We have to push through. We’ve got some incoming freshmen we’re excited about and we’ll rebuild and let people know who we are again.”
Graduate transfers Katie Benzan and Chloe Bibby, who moved into the starting lineup, both opted to take the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility and injured senior Channise Lewis, a former starting point guard, is back after knee surgery. The Terrapins have all their major weapons returning after averaging 90.8 points per game last year.
“Being able to come back, basically, with the same team, I’m very excited,” Owusu said. “The way last season ended will fuel us this season.”
Somewhat lost in the run the Terrapins had — 15 straight wins going into the Sweet 16 — was the early-season loss of star freshman Reese, who fractured her right foot in her fourth game, and missed 14 contests. Frese, AP’s National Coach of the Year, rebuilt the team without her.
A “rusty” Reese would finish with 10.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in her 15 games, shooting 47 percent, but she had lost much of the polish on a game that had made her the consensus No. 2 recruit in the nation last offseason.
“Unfortunately for Angel that injury set her back two months, two months of learning and being coached and watching film,” Frese said. “That’s why this summer is huge for her to get back being healthy. This tryout is really big. She’s one of the older ones there. She has tried out before and knows what to expect. It’s a great chance to get her rhythm.”
It speaks to what Frese saw in Reese at St. Frances Academy and then at Maryland before she was injured that a player could average 10 points and six rebounds as a freshman — and everyone think she was a bit off her game. Asked if Reese has a higher ceiling, the veteran coach laughed.
“Oh, yes. Her ceiling is so high,” Frese said. “She has just scratched the surface. She has habits, some are really good and some need to get broken. We just didn’t have the time due to the injury, but she’s got a huge future.”
The 6-foot-3 Reese is one of 27 players born on or after Jan. 1, 2002, invited to the U19 World Cup Team tryouts May 14-16. She’ll be working under UCLA head coach Cori Close, and the Bruins boss will get a close look at Reese’s non-stop hustle and enthusiasm.
Reese is a terror on the offensive glass and makes things happen all over the court with a versatile game that suffered because of the two months out and the pandemic-altered offseason.
“Freshmen are always going to have their highs and lows,” said Frese. “The thing about Angel is she didn’t have to come back [last season]. She was just so driven in her rehab to get back and help this team in any shape or form. You have to remember the team was already formed when she got back. You’re not going to shake up your starting lineup in March. She came back at the biggest part of the season and kudos to her. I can’t say enough for her attitude.”
Owusu and Miller will be playing for South Carolina coach Dawn Staley in Columbia, S.C., as their team readies for AmeriCup games in Puerto Rico. Other “finalists” are Grace Berger of Indiana; Aliyah Boston and Destanni Henderson from South Carolina; Jakia Brown-Turner and Elissa Cunane of NC State; Veronica Burton, Northwestern; Naz Hillmon, Michigan; Rhyne Howard, Kentucky; Haley Jones, Stanford; Sedona Prince, Oregon, and NaLyssa Smith, Baylor.
Meanwhile, Maryland’s Kozlova, she of the sweet long-range stroke, is back home working out and readying for her country’s U20 team trials that haven’t formerly been announced as of yet. The 6-foot-1 freshman averaged 9.8 minutes in 20 Maryland games, scoring 2.3 points and averaging 0.9 rebounds. She shot 45 percent (9-of-20) from 3-point range.
“These opportunities give players another high level of confidence that when you get in a big game or tight moment you can go back and rely on the fact that you’ve played against some of the world’s best competition,” Frese said. “I love it. It makes them uncomfortable, and that’s how you improve. They get another, different coaching voice in the summer and all the things for them to be able to build their future for us and the rest of their careers.”
Photo Credits: Courtesy of USA Basketball