Veterans Memorial High School sophomore Ashley Smith has been selected to participate in the U.S.A. Junior Nationals basketball program. As a result, she will be traveling to Columbus, Ohio as a member of a statewide, all-star team to compete in a five-day tournament against teams from across the country.
As part of the U.S. Basketball Program, the U.S.A. Junior Nationals program began in Atlanta, Georgia in 1980. Since then it has provided high school basketball players from across the nation, as well as Canada, Mexico, Russia, Japan and Europe, the opportunity to improve on their fundamental techniques through competition and to be seen by college coaches who may be looking for players to offer scholarships.
As George Blue, assistant office administrator for the U.S. Basketball Program, explained they are not necessarily targeting athletes that are good enough to play for Division I schools. Instead, they are hoping to attract those players who have the potential of playing at the Division II, Division III and NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) level but may otherwise be overlooked by collegiate coaches.
“The type of players that are high school All-American material and eventually make it to the NBA (National Basketball Association) and the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) do not need the additional exposure that we provide through our program,” explained Blue. “That’s because everybody knows about them from the time they’re in the ninth and tenth grade. We get the type of athletes that are excellent players and are looking for an opportunity to prove that they can play basketball at the next level.”
Ashley’s father, Michael Smith, explained how she first became involved with the U.S.A. Junior National Program.
“Ashley competed in the Rio Grande Valley All-Star Game April 5,” said Smith.
“The very next day we took her to San Antonio to tryout for the U.S.A. Junior Nationals team. She made the team and as a result she will be participating in their International Sports Festival which will be held in Columbus, Ohio in July.
“It’s a way of getting the top players from across the country together,” added Smith. “They will be coached by college coaches and they will compete against each other. I believe that they are also supposed to have a team from Canada this year so it will truly be an international tournament.”
Tryouts for the U.S.A. Junior Nationals team were by invitation only. Ashley was one of 30 to 35 girls that received an invitation and made the trip to San Antonio last month to attend the tryout.
“The girls were from all over the state of Texas,” said Ashley. “We had a free throw contest, a three point contest and then we had a scrimmage so that the coaches could see how we played against each other. There were a lot of coaches there.”
“I came up short in the free throw contest, but I did pretty well in the three point contest,” added Ashley. “I could’ve done better, but overall I was satisfied with how the tryout went – especially when I received notice that I had made the cut for Team Texas.”
With college coaches from across the country participating in and attending the International Sports Festival, Ashley is hoping that the tournament will not only help her improve her game but that it might also improve her chances of earning a scholarship. Even though she still has two more years to play for the Lady Patriots, she already has her sights set on playing at the next level.
“I hope to get recognized by some college coaches,” said Ashley. “Hopefully, they’ll start watching me over the next two years and I’ll get a college scholarship.”
Last year as a freshman, Ashley averaged 13.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.0 steals and 3.2 assists per game for the Lady Patriots. She was selected as the All-District and the All-Valley Newcomer of the Year. This year Ashley averaged 18.2 points (led the Valley), 4.7 rebounds, 4.0 steals and 3.0 assists per game. She was named to the All-Valley Second Team and was selected as the Offensive MVP for District 32-4A.