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Speed among U17 team's strengths

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Barbara Nelson doesn't know a lot about the competition her team will face this July at the FIBA World Championships in France, but she knows this much -- it won't be a cakewalk.

"We're gonna have our work cut out for us," said Nelson, the coach of the USA U17 national team. "We had an easy road last year and that's not gonna be the case this year."

While the team might not know exactly what it's up against in France, the Americans will have one obvious advantage now that the roster is set: Speed, speed and more speed.

"Our size is pretty amazing, and so is our ability to run the court," Nelson said. "Our strength will be transition on offense and defense."

Two key ingredients emerged during the trials at the Olympic Training Center that will help the U17 team compete for the gold this summer -- stellar point guard play and a frontcourt that will contest almost every shot.

The team will be run by Ariel Massengale, the No. 6 prospect in the ESPN HoopGurlz 100 for the 2011 class, who played the point last year and impressed Nelson and the selection committee last week with steady play and outside shooting. Add combo guards Jordan Adams (No. 4 in the 2012 class) and Bria Smith (No. 3 in 2011) to the mix and Nelson likes the versatility at the one.

Massengale said she expects to see a lot of zone in Europe, and plans to run the ball as much as she can in order to score easy buckets early and often before the defense can set.

"Even if other teams get a good shot off, we wanna push the ball right back down their throat," Massengale said. "And we're gonna need someone to knock down open shots."

On the surface, the only true shooter who sticks out on the roster is Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, the No. 2 ESPN HoopGurlz prospect for 2011. Mosqueda-Lewis doesn't need much room to get her shot off, and can stretch out defenses if she gets hot. But should Mosqueda-Lewis go cold from outside, it might get dicey for the Americans.

Nelson isn't worried. While Adams and Smith are known more for their ability to create shots off the dribble, Nelson said Adams showed her shooting range last year in Mexico at the FIBA Americas Championship. She is confident Adams can do it again if needed.

"If the game requires that we have a bigger guard, we have that," Nelson said. "If it requires we have 3-point shooting, we have that. All three of those girls can get their own shots and get shots for their teammates."

In the paint, the length of Elizabeth Williams, Breanna Stewart and Imani Stafford will make it tough for anyone to score close to the basket. Williams and Stewart have already proven themselves to be deft shot blockers, and Stafford emerged at the trials as someone who will contest shots, too.

"I think we naturally play with that kind of defensive mindset, we use our length as an advantage," said Williams, the top prospect in the 2011 class. "I think our guards can defend as hard as they want to because they know we're inside."

Offensively, the team is confident that while their posts might not be as big as the international competition, they're sure to get up and down the floor faster than anyone. They might not pound the ball inside as much this summer, but the posts still expect to score plenty of points. And even if they don't have a scouting report yet, Williams said she and her teammates understand what's in store for them in France.

"[Coaches] have been emphasizing to us how intense the competition is going to be, and we learned from our U19s last year, when they lost to Spain in their first game," Williams said.

"We can't take anyone lightly."

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Lindsay Schnell is a staff writer for HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Oregon State University, she has been involved in the Oregon girls' basketball community for most her life as a player, high school coach, writer and fan. She also has been regular contributor to The Oregonian and won several awards for her writing. She can be reached at lindsay@hoopgurlz.com.