Mikaylah Williams (Courtesy of USA Basketball)

The USA Basketball run at the FIBA U17 Women’s World Cup has been emphatically noted. They’ve won four of the last five times the event has been held, and they’ll look to add to that dominance again this year.

Mikaylah Williams, Juju Watkins and Breya Cunningham are among the top three recruits headlining the star-studded U17 National Team, a 12-player squad that was finalized on June 1.

They’ll gear up for next month’s action at the 2022 FIBA U17 World Cup, which is slated to take place July 9-17 in Debrecen, Hungary, and head coach Sue Phillips is thrilled at the versatility this year’s roster has to offer.

“Understanding that it will take perhaps a variety of styles of play to be effective on any given night, I love the prospects of the interchangeable pieces and the different types of roster formations that we can put on the floor to be effective,” Phillips said.

This year marks the fifth USA Basketball coaching assignment for the longtime coach, who led the U16 team to a gold medal a year ago at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Mexico. Cunningham, Watkins, Madison Booker, Jaloni Cambridge, Jadyn Donovan, and Jada Williams were each members of that team, which defeated Canada 118-45 in the final.

Her experience with the U17 team is also worth noting. In 2014, Phillips helmed a squad that survived a 40-point performance from Angela Salvadores in the championship game, claiming a 77-75 win over Spain. That gold-medal team was also star-studded in its own right, including the likes of Arike Ogunbowale, Lauren Cox, Asia Durr and Sabrina Ionescu.

“We’re not only going to need to utilize our talent, but we have to play smart and play hard and play together. We can’t play hero ball,” Phillips said. “A lot of these teams that we’ll be competing against have been together for months, if not years, and their ability to work a two-player game and have this incredible chemistry on the floor is a given. So we are going to have to have our two-player defensive strategies on point.”

Mikaylah Williams is the two-time reigning Gatorade Louisiana Player of the Year after leading Parkway High School (La.) to a 32-2 record and a state championship last season, during which she averaged 22.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.2 steals per game. She remains uncommitted but has narrowed her list of schools down to five — Baylor, Duke, LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.

Phillips lauds Williams’ “instant offense” and is thrilled to have the top recruit in the class of 2023 leading the way for Team USA.

“I think she has a beautiful mid-range game. It’s automatic,” Phillips said. “She has a knack for scoring. You give her a seam or space, she’s going to be able to get us a bucket. She’s strong, explosive. She can get on the glass. We’re going to need our guards to rebound to gain us some extra possessions and to secure the defensive stops.”

The reigning 2021-22 Gatorade California Girls Basketball Player of the Year, Watkins is also no stranger to Phillips. In March, Watkins notched a double-double with 23 points and 19 rebounds to lead Sierra Canyon to an 85-61 win over Archbishop Mitty in the Open Division state championship.

That Archbishop Mitty team was coached by none other than Phillips, who saw first-hand just how dynamic Watkins has become.

“Her team was victorious, and Juju was a big part of that,” Phillips said about Watkins, who averaged 25.0 points and 10.6 rebounds per game in guiding the Trailblazers to a 30-2 record last season. “She’s a three-level scorer. She’s probably one of the best I’ve seen in my 30-year coaching tenure in being able to finish with and through contact. She’s incredibly strong and creative with her finishes around the rim. She can impact the game defensively as well. She has great anticipation and athleticism, just an incredible feel for the game.”

Phillips is joined by assistant coaches Tom McConnell (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) and Brittanny Johnson (Evanston Township High School [Ill.]). Phillips believes both excel in different ways to create a fully-formed unit.

“Being able to help us conduct an effective and efficient practice and then also provide the mid-game adjustment insights, I really enjoy working with Tom and look forward to the coming weeks,” Phillips said. “Brittanny was a court coach last year and has now been put on the coaching staff as one of my assistants. I really enjoyed working with her in trials a few weeks ago. I think she is very intuitive about the game. She has a great understanding of the sense of strengths that our players can bring to the table.”

Selected by the USA Basketball Developmental National Team Committee, the U17 team is made up of future graduates from 2023 and 2024. They were chosen after six days of trials in Colorado Springs, Colo., where 40 invitees were dwindled down to a dozen.

Additionally, Kennedy Umeh was a finalist for the 2021 U16 roster, while Mikaylah Williams also has experience with USA Basketball, helping lead her team to a gold medal finish at the 2021 FIBA 3×3 U18 World Cup.

With the start of training camp looming ahead on June 26, Phillips is filling that time coaching her club and AAU teams. But the anticipation of heading to Europe to compete for gold is building by the day.

Times like these are everything to a coach who’s been in the ranks for more than 20 years.

“It’s an amazing two weeks. I just love basketball,” Phillips said. “I love teaching and coaching the game. I couldn’t be more excited to support the red, white and blue with this particular roster and coaching staff. I’m excited with our prospects and ability to make the World Cup, and I can’t wait to get to work.”

Click here to see a preview of the U18 National Team roster.

MEET THE TEAM

Sunaja Agara, 16, Hopkins HS (Minn.)
Hometown: Minneapolis, Minn.
Height: 6-2
Class: 2023
Commitment: Stanford

Madison Booker, 16, Germantown HS (Miss.)
Hometown: Ridgeland, Miss.
Height: 6-1
Class: 2023
Commitment: Undeclared

Jaloni Cambridge, 16, The Ensworth School (Tenn.)
Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.
Height: 5-0
Class: 2024
Commitment: Undeclared

Morgan Cheli, 16, Archbishop Mitty HS (Calif.)
Hometown: Los Altos, Calif.
Height: 6-1
Class: 2024
Commitment: Undeclared

Breya Cunningham, 17, La Jolla Country Day School (Calif.)
Hometown: Chula Vista, Calif.
Height: 6-4
Class: 2023
Commitment: Undeclared

Jadyn Donovan, 16, Sidwell Friends School (Washington, D.C.)
Hometown: Upper Marlboro, Md.
Height: 6-0
Class: 2023
Commitment: Undeclared

Hannah Hidalgo, 17, Paul VI HS (N.J.)
Hometown: Merchantville, N.J.
Height: 5-7
Class: 2023
Commitment: Undeclared

Mackenly Randolph, 16, Sierra Canyon School (Calif.)
Hometown: Encino, Calif.
Height: 6-1
Class: 2024
Commitment: Undeclared

Kennedy Umeh, 15, McDonogh School (Md.)
Hometown: Columbia, Md.
Height: 6-4
Class: 2024
Commitment: Undeclared

Judea Watkins, 16, Sierra Canyon School (Calif.)
Hometown: Sylmar, Calif.
Height: 6-1
Class: 2023
Commitment: Undeclared

Jada Williams, 17, La Jolla Country Day School (Calif.)
Hometown: San Diego, Calif.
Height: 5-8
Class: 2023
Commitment: UCLA

Mikaylah Williams, 16, Parkway HS (La.)
Hometown: Bossier City, La.
Height: 6-1
Class: 2023
Commitment: Undeclared