Photo by Kevin FrenchThe eyes are always a good indicator. One stare into an athlete's pupils and chances are a coach will know if a player is locked in or not.
Kristine Anigwe (left) showed all of Arizona how dominant she can be. Now the Desert Vista player will be showing the world.
Desert Vista (Phoenix) coach J'ontar Coleman was happy to see what was staring back at him when he looked at Kristine Anigwe before the Division I girl state basketball title game.
"We had a couple of discussions before state where I told her we go as far as she is going to take us," Coleman said. "She took that as a challenge and stepped up, played hard and she was determined to win that state championship."
Apparently, that intensity and level of play stayed with Anigwe.
She was more aggressive and efficient than ever before. Anigwe asked for the ball, and took it when it was a 50-50 situation. She had a large height advantage, but that wasn't the difference.
It was the look in her eyes.
Anigwe was one of 145 players on the court at the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado, before it was dwindled down to the dozen who will represent the country at the 2014 FIBA U-17 World Championship, June 28-July 6 in the Czech Republic.
"You had to fight for your spot or you would be cut," Anigwe said.
Clearly, the fight Anigwe used to help the Thunder to the title never left, as she found a spot on one of the most sought-after teams.
Now, the real work begins.
The USA U-17 squad will look to capture its third-straight FIBA U-17 World Championship gold medal. The team will reassemble at the USOTC for training camp June 12-17 before the team departs June 18 for training and an exhibition tournament in Nogent sur Seine, France, June 20-22 before heading to the Czech Republic on June 23.
Slipping on a red, white and blue uniform with U.S.A. emblazoned on it is something Anigwe is not taking lightly.
Soon she will find out what the level of play is at the international level and it will only make her, and ultimately Desert Vista, better.
"I'm so proud of her," Coleman said. "I knew she was one of the best players in the state, but now she is being recognized as one of the best in the nation. People better watch out next year. She will come back a different player as the coaches (at USA Basketball) develop her game even more and she gets a boost of confidence."
Anigwe, who averaged 16.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.3 steals last year, will have an impressive team surrounding her the next few months. Six of the players, including MVP Asia Durr of St. Pius X Catholic (Douglasville, Ga.), were members of the USA squad that won the 2013 FIBA Americas U-16 Championship this past summer to earn the USA its berth into the 2014 FIBA U-17 World Championship.
"I am so excited," said head coach Sue Phillips, who returns to lead the 2014 USA U-17 World Championship Team after leading the USA to a gold medal at the 2013 FIBA Americas U-16 Championship. "This group of participants was extremely talented, very coachable and worked so hard. I knew whichever 12 the committee decided on, we were going to have a very competitive team. We're going to do our best to win the gold medal."
A gold medal would look awfully nice next to the state title ring Anigwe already owns.
"I'm very excited to play amongst the best," she said. "I want to get better and I think it will be a great experience."
Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothill News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-272-2449.