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Women's basketball recruiting: Well-traveled Lauren Betts heads to Chile with USA Basketball

Center Lauren Betts, who stands 6-foot-7, is part of the U.S. team that is headed to Chile for the FIBA Americas U16 Championship. Marc Piscotty

Lauren Betts used to fall asleep at night wearing a ready-to-go outfit. She kept art projects, a favorite magazine and a collection of lollipops packed and at the ready. Flights to Greece, England, Ukraine, you name it, were part of her morning routine growing up in Spain.

Betts' dad, 7-foot-1 center Andrew Betts, played professional basketball in Europe for 14 years. The Betts children and their mom visited him whenever, wherever, they could.

"One time, we flew back to Malaga after visiting their dad," said Michelle Betts, Lauren's mom. "We basically celebrated Easter Sunday on the plane with a big Lindt chocolate bunny given to us by a Lufthansa flight attendant."

On Thursday, Betts will be on the move again. She's headed for the first time to South America to compete for the United States as a member of the U16 national team that will play in the 2019 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Puerto Aysen, Chile, June 16-22.

Betts, a 6-7 center from Grandview (Aurora, Colorado), is now 15 years old, and she was one of 146 players who tried out for 12 roster spots on the U.S. team.

"I was very nervous and intimidated because I knew the best girls in the country were there," Betts said. "But after every cut, I felt more confident in my ability.

"You never know for sure what the coaches are looking for, but I'm super excited that they chose me for this amazing team. When I made the team, I immediately cried tears of joy."

Michelle Betts, who is 5-9, was a volleyball standout (outside hitter) for Long Beach State, where she met Andrew. They are now amicably divorced, living five minutes apart and sharing custody of Lauren, who has her own room in both houses.

The family had moved to Colorado when Lauren was set to begin third grade. By fourth grade, she had shot past her mom in height.

That was the year she started playing basketball.

By sixth grade, Betts was 6-feet, and dealing with people's reaction to her height was rarely easy.

"Children and adults are sometimes very rude," Michelle Betts said. "Lauren gets stared at everywhere, and people aren't shy to make comments about her height.

"It's great having a tall dad for support, but it's not quite the same thing as being a tall young woman. I can't imagine what it's like to be 15 and get attention everywhere you go."

Basketball has helped, allowing Betts to make friends easily and helping her fit in around other tall and athletic girls. Even among them, her talent stands out. As a freshman reserve last season, Betts led Grandview in points (12.7), rebounds (8.6) and blocks (3.9).

"I'm probably the dumbest coach in America," Grandview coach Josh Ulitzky joked when asked about not starting Betts. "To her credit, the kid never [complained]. Her parents never said a word, either."

Ulitzky, who led Grandview to state titles in 2017 and 2018, said Betts picked up belief and variety.

"Early in the season, she would labor running the court," Ulitzky said. "But as the year went on, you could see her confidence skyrocket. She would lead the fast break, and, for a kid her size, you don't expect that."

Betts played all 28 games, leading the Wolves to a 23-5 record and a berth in the Colorado Class 5A state final against Cherry Creek (Greenwood Village).

Cherry Creek won 51-49 when Stanford recruit Jana Van Gytenbeek, a 5-7 point guard, hit a floater off glass from the left side of the lane.

Betts, who had to step out to guard a 3-point shooter, couldn't get back in position to alter or block Van Gytenbeek's shot.

"It was really tough, but losing is part of the game," said Betts, who had nine points, 14 rebounds and six blocks in the game. "Jana is an amazing player. I give her a lot of credit to have the confidence to shoot over a 6-7 girl."

Betts' development can best be illustrated in two games against nationally ranked Regis Jesuit (Aurora, Colorado). On Dec. 12, Regis routed Grandview 79-55 as McDonald's All-American Fran Belibi scored 32 points for the winners. Betts was held to five points and no rebounds in the loss.

Belibi, a 6-1 senior forward who is now set to play for Stanford, had a spectacular play in that game, breaking up a post pass intended for Betts and then dunking on the other end of a breakaway.

But on March 7, Grandview defeated Regis 48-38 in the 5A state semifinal. Betts had seven points, six rebounds and three blocks as Grandview finished that game on a 17-2 run.

All of Betts' scoring came in the final five minutes of the game.

"Fran is an incredible player, and I was nervous to play her the first game," Betts said. "That first game went bad for us in every single way, and we learned from it.

"We played really well when it counted, in the semifinal. It felt good to avenge that loss in such an important moment."

Betts has had some big-time basketball mentors such as Ulitzky, her dad and Todd Doherty, who was her first club coach. More recently, she has been coached by two former NBA players, Ervin Johnson, a 6-11 center who also played at the University of New Orleans; and Keith Van Horn, a 6-10 forward who was the second pick in the 1997 NBA draft.

Van Horn started working with Betts last fall, and he was quickly impressed.

"You can tell she's been around the game with the way she keeps the ball high and makes the right reads," said Van Horn, who coaches Betts on her Colorado Premier AAU team. "She's pretty instinctive, with great hands and a feel for blocking shots and knowing how to position herself so she can effectively use her height. She picks things up quickly, and that isn't always the case with kids her age.

"The next step is for her to develop confidence with her shooting range. She has a nice touch, and I think she will be a solid outside shooter. She has to develop go-to moves and counters, but she has the talent to play at a big-time level. She is already being recruited by a majority of the top-10 teams in the nation."