Surprising cut at USA trials

Kelsey Mitchell being cut by USA Basketball was a surprise to everyone but her. Glenn Nelson/ESPN.com

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Kelsey Mitchell of Cincinnati, Ohio, was the best guard who participated in the USA Basketball U16 trials this past weekend. That was the conventional wisdom among scouts and media who observed the tryouts. The national team selection committee did not agree, including her among the second-to-last cuts on Sunday afternoon.

Which surprised everyone.

Except Mitchell, that is.

"I kind of expected it," said the 5-foot-8 combo guard. "Before I came out here, people said it was really political."

USA coaches traditionally emphasize getting the ball inside, and the perception is that perimeter individuality is discouraged. Mitchell said that viewpoint jibes with hers.

A 2014 prospect, Mitchell impressed with her speed at both ends of the floor, ballhandling, shooting and ability to penetrate. She did take scoring opportunities when they presented themselves. Many of the point guards at the trials who had as dynamic a skill set seemed to survive cuts by limiting their own offense.

Two different guards who did survive the later cuts told ESPN HoopGurlz that USA coaches told the backcourt group that there was too much individual play. That did not appear to be the case, however, especially when compared to previous years.

"They expect you to run plays, not run the ball," Mitchell said. "That's not my game. If you get an opportunity to score, you should score. This just isn't for me. I won't come back next year."

Asked if she was speaking from emotion, Mitchell said, "I'm not upset. I'm not mad at the committee. That's on them." She reiterated that she would decline another invitation from USA Basketball.

USA Basketball is known to be intolerant of what might be considered lack of decorum. Mitchell wore her practice jersey backward during one of the early sessions. She said she had not realized the faux pas until a bystander pointed it out to her after the session. No coach or USA Basketball official mentioned the backward jersey, Mitchell said.

Mitchell's removal was reminiscent of the committee cutting Moriah Jefferson of Glenn Heights, Texas, from U16 and U17 teams. Jefferson, the No. 2 player in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100 and a Connecticut commit, performed well but was injured the first year, and was widely considered by observers as one of the best at trials the next. Jefferson used the slight to go on a rampage through the club-basketball circuit and last week was named a finalist for the U19 FIBA World Championship team.

"It is very motivating," said Mitchell, who says she will play on the club circuit with All-Ohio, a Nike-sponsored program based in Columbus, Ohio.

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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.