Katie Lou Samuelson and De’Janae Boykin had always talked about attending college together.
When two of the top high school women’s basketball players in the class of 2015 took an official visit to the University of Connecticut on April 20, they met another recruit, Napheesa Collier.
Collier verbally committed to UConn during her visit, Boykin announced her decision May 4 and Samuelson followed suit May 20. The Huskies had landed quite the trio: Samuelson is the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2015 by ESPN, Collier is No. 5 and Boykin No. 10.
All three are excited to play at the same college in 2015. But one year before they head off to play for legendary coach Geno Auriemma, they’re competing together at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. The three women, along with Arike Ogunbowale, represent the United States in the 3-on-3 competition, which kicked off Monday when Team USA defeated Romania 21-3. The U.S. will play Indonesia and Egypt Tuesday (Aug. 19).
“It’s awesome,” Samuelson said about playing with her future Connecticut teammates. “It’s almost like we can learn how to play with each other now and then we’ll be ready for when we’re (at UConn).”
Collier, who attends Incarnate Word Academy in O’Fallon, Missouri, believes playing with her future teammates will bring them all closer together.
“I just really want to make a lot of memories because we’re going to be playing together for the next four years, so we might as well get started early,” Collier said.
The women punched their tickets to the Youth Olympic Games by winning the USA Basketball Women’s 3x3 U18 National Championship in early June. Boykin, Collier and Ogunbowale were on team Defend. Samuelson was unable to compete after spraining her ankle.
The four women have history playing with and against one another.
In 2013, Samuelson, Boykin and Ogunbowale’s team Defend won the USA Basketball Women’s 3x3 U18 National Championship. Collier’s Primus squad placed runner-up. Samuelson and Ogunbowale, who goes to Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in Milwaukee and is undeclared for college, won gold together at the 2013 FIBA 3x3 U18 World Championship.
Samuelson and Boykin know each other’s games pretty well after playing together at the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 and U17 championships, helping the U.S. win gold medals in both tournaments.
All four players on the U.S. team had never played together before the women had their first practice Aug. 11. The team was able to get in just five practices before heading to China.
Samuelson, who goes to Mater Dei High School in Huntington Beach, California, likes the way her teammates get along and mesh together. The players are starting to learn each other’s strengths and tendencies.
“The fact that we all get along off the court and that transfers on the court,” said Boykin, who attends Charles H. Flowers High School in Springdale, Maryland. “That pretty much helps us out a lot.”
Adapting to 3-on-3
Playing 3-on-3 is a different game than traditional 5-on-5, full-court action.
Besides only having three players on the court at a time for each team, a game is played on a half court and lasts only 10 minutes. The first team to score at least 21 points or the team that is leading when the buzzer sounds is the winner. Shots from beyond the arc are worth two points and anything inside the arc is one point. Twenty women’s teams are competing at the Youth Olympic Games.
“I love how fast-paced it is. You only have 12 seconds to check the ball and score,” Samuelson said. “It’s so much fun because there’s music playing, and I just love it.”
Boykin said the game is very different because you have to think and talk a lot more with your teammates.
“I like how spaced the floor is and how everyone is held accountable for your own actions because you have to do your job,” Collier said.
The U.S. team worked in practice on a few set plays, but most of the game is just going out and playing basketball.
“You definitely have to create situations, because there’s not that many people, but you have to rely on teammates and know that they’re going to be there for you,” Collier said.
All four players on the U.S. team are very versatile. Every one of the players is a big-time scorer in high school play — Samuelson averaged 26.3 points per game as a junior; Collier, 23.7; Boykin, 21.1; and Ogunbowale, 22.7.
“I definitely think this team is very diverse because we all have strengths at different spots,” said Samuelson, who at 6-foot-3 is the tallest player on the team. “We all can step out and hit the three, we all can go in and post up. I think this team is really good because we’re all pretty much all-around players.”
Boykin feels like the United States is the team to beat at the Youth Olympic Games.
“Having that Team USA, you’re always going to have that target on your back,” Samuelson said. “Every team is going to want to take us down.”
Every player on the U.S. squad knows what it takes to win gold. Samuelson and Ogunbowale each own three gold medals and Boykin has two, while Collier, who will be playing in her first international competition, just picked up her first as the U.S. won the FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
“It’s so cool to be in the Youth Olympics,” Samuelson said. “I’m just so excited to be with these girls and hopefully win another gold medal, that’s the goal.”
Greg Bates is a freelance writer based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who has covered Green Bay Packers games for a number of media outlets for the past seven seasons. He has been a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc., since 2012.