Aug. 20, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - For the third time in the past five years, a Notre Dame women's basketball player has earned a gold medal with the United States Under-18 National Team in international competition, as freshman guard Michaela Mabrey (Belmar, N.J./Manasquan) played a pivotal role in leading the U.S. to a 5-0 record and the title at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship that wrapped up Sunday night in Gurabo, Puerto Rico.
Mabrey (pronounced MAY-bree) was among the United States' most valuable players, and that was never more apparent than in Sunday's gold-medal game against Brazil, when she collected 14 points, five rebounds and three assists in a 71-47 victory. After the United States fell behind 18-7 early in the second quarter, the Notre Dame freshman sharpshooter went to work, canning three three-pointers during a 19-0 run and the Americans never looked back on the way to their sixth consecutive gold medal at the event (which debuted in 1988). By finishing in the top four at the tournament, the United States also clinched a spot in the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship, to be held in Lithuania.
"I knew that we would bounce back," Mabrey said. "(Head coach Katie Meier) was giving us confidence. She wasn't freaking out at all. She was just telling us to calm down. I think we were a little jittery and a little nervous in the beginning. But once we came together and we decided to play USA Basketball, when we did that things started to turn around.
"The feeling (of winning a gold medal) is indescribable," she added. "We've worked so hard the last two weeks, then at trials, being there at (training camp in) Orlando, knowing that all the hard work paid off, is just a great feeling."
The 5-foot-10 Mabrey appeared in all five games and started four times for the Americans, averaging 12.8 points, 4.8 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game with a staggering .500 three-point percentage (16-of-32) and a .489 overall field goal percentage (23-of-47) while scoring in double figures four times. She led all players in the eight-team tournament in assists, assist-to-turnover ratio (2.67) and three-pointers made per game (3.2), while also ranking among the top eight players at the event in four other statistical categories -- three-point field goal percentage (tied-second), field goal percentage (fourth), scoring (sixth) and blocked shots (tied-eighth).
What's more, Mabrey stamped her name all over the USA Basketball U18 record books during the five-day tournament, setting a new American U18 single-game record with 10 assists in the USA's 99-26 win over the Dominican Republic on Aug. 15 (topping the old mark of nine shared by Candace Parker in 2004 and Khadijah Rushdan in 2006), and tying another U.S. U18 record with an .833 three-point percentage (5-of-6) in an 87-36 victory over Colombia on Aug. 17 (a standard first set by Candice Wiggins in 2004). Mabrey also tied the second-best tournament-long assist average and three-point percentage by a USA Basketball player -- Rushdan averaged 6.0 apg. in 2006 (Parker averaged 4.8 apg. in 2004), while Wiggins had a .562 three-point percentage in 2004 (the same year Essence Carson made 3-of-6 three-pointers, with Mabrey matching that percentage this year).
"We have a drill and you have to earn the green light, and consistently in camp, `Mike' was the only one who earned the green light," said Meier, who also is the head coach at the University of Miami (Fla.). "That basically means when she gets her first-look three, she gets to take it. We're talking on her first pass, she's allowed to shoot. So, when she made her first couple, the dam breaks and the light turns very, very green. I said it was moving toward aqua because it was so green it was starting to turn a little bit blue (laughs)."
Mabrey was one of two Notre Dame representatives on this year's USA Basketball Under-18 National Team, with Fighting Irish athletic trainer Anne Marquez filling that same role for the Americans. Mabrey is the third Notre Dame player in the past five years to earn a gold medal with the United States U-18s, following the path first laid out by current Fighting Irish senior guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) in 2008 and junior guard Kayla McBride (Erie, Pa./Villa Maria Academy) in 2010. Meanwhile, Marquez is the second current Notre Dame staff member to help her country to U-18 gold, with associate head coach Carol Owens guiding the USA to titles in 2006 (as an assistant coach) and 2008 (as head coach).
Originally known as the FIBA Americas Junior World Championship Qualifying Tournament (which features teams from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean), the FIBA Americas U18 Championship For Women was held every four years from 1988 through 2004, and is now contested every other year, followed in the next summer by the FIBA U19 World Championship. USA women's teams boast of a remarkable 43-2 overall record in the U18/Junior Qualifiers and have won gold in 1988, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012, while capturing silver medals in 1992 and 1996. In fact, since a loss in the 1996 final, the United States now has won 29 consecutive games at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
With Sunday's win, Mabrey earns the seventh gold medal for Notre Dame since 2008, as well as the 11th gold and 18th medal in program history. Most recently, Diggins, along with 2011-12 tri-captains and 2012 WNBA first-round draft picks Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters, led the United States to a perfect 6-0 record and the gold medal at the World University Games in Shenzhen, China. It was Diggins' third international gold medal in four years with a USA Basketball squad (along with titles at the 2008 FIBA Americas U18 and 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship tournaments, while both Novosel and Peters struck gold for the first time in their careers.
Mabrey's gold medal marked the seventh consecutive time at least one Fighting Irish women's basketball player (alumna, current player or incoming freshman) suited up for a USA Basketball team at an international tournament and came home with the gold medal, a remarkable run of excellence that dates back to 2004 when Riley was a member of the 2004 Senior Women's National Team that won gold at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
Mabrey's gold in Puerto Rico also is part of a new chapter in Notre Dame's run of success on the international basketball stage, with three Fighting Irish players competing for their country this summer. In addition to Mabrey, junior forward Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary's Catholic) helped Canada earn its first Olympic berth since 2000 -- becoming the second Notre Dame player to compete in the Games after Ruth Riley ('01) in 2004 -- and Achonwa then paced Canada to its first Olympic quarterfinal appearance in 28 years, averaging 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as the second-youngest women's basketball player competing at the London Games.
The Fighting Irish will have a third player playing internationally later this week, when Diggins goes in search of her fifth USA Basketball gold (fourth in international competition) when she suits up for the inaugural FIBA 3x3 World Championship, scheduled for Aug. 23-26 in Athens, Greece. Diggins and her American teammates will open the 24-team tournament on Thursday with Group D games against Germany (12:40 p.m. ET) and Angola (2:30 p.m. ET), followed by Friday match-ups with Sri Lanka (11 a.m. ET) and Argentina (1:30 p.m. ET), and a Saturday game with the Netherlands (12:40 p.m. ET) to complete the preliminary round. The top four teams in each group will advance to the round-of-eight, with those games (and the quarterfinals) also to be played later on Saturday. The semifinals and gold/bronze medal games will take place on Sunday, Aug. 26.
Other representatives of the Notre Dame women's basketball program to compete on the world stage include: Melissa Lechlitner, who struck gold with the 2007 USA U19 World Championship Team (making Lechlitner the first South Bend-area female to earn a gold medal in international basketball competition), and Megan Duffy, who claimed a gold medal as a co-captain and starter for the 2005 USA World University Games Team. Riley also made prior USA Basketball appearances in 1998 (Select Team) and 1999 (World University Games Team), while former Fighting Irish All-Americans Katryna Gaither (two teams, two medals) and Beth (Morgan) Cunningham (four teams, three medals) -- who currently is Notre Dame's associate coach -- also have suited up for Team USA.
Mabrey was lauded by numerous national media outlets following her final prep season in 2011-12, earning selections as a McDonald's All-American, Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) All-American, Gatorade New Jersey High School Player of the Year and member of the 2012 ESPN Hoopgurlz Eastern All-Star Team. She also was ranked as one of the top 40 players in the nation in the Class of 2012 by Blue Star Basketball (20th), ESPN Hoopgurlz (32nd) and All-Star Girls Report (36th).
In March 2012, Mabrey completed an outstanding prep career at Manasquan High School, where she led the Warriors to a 32-2 record, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group III state championship and then the Tournament of Champions state title (across all groups/classes). Mabrey averaged 17.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.8 steals per game as a high school senior, including three 20-point outings in the state tournament and capped by a 26-point performance in the New Jersey Tournament of Champions final against Gill St. Bernard's. Manasquan also was ranked 17th in the final USA Today Super 25 poll of the season.
Mabrey was a near-consensus player of the year selection in 2012 by the Newark Star-Ledger, MSG Varsity, Asbury Park Press and Coast Star, as well as the Shore Conference, and a two-time all-state selection (first team this year. She scored 2,123 points in her career, ranking fourth all-time among players in the Shore Conference and making her the first 2,000-point scorer to come from the Shore since 1993, when Christie Pearce (Rampone) reached the milestone for Point Pleasant Boro before electing to devote her energy full-time to soccer. (NOTE: Rampone has led the U.S. National Team to four FIFA World Cups and three Olympics since 1999, winning the `99 World Cup title and earning gold medals at the past three Olympics, and she is fourth all-time with more than 250 international appearances.)
Mabrey started her prep career at St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel, N.J., helping the Lancers win the 2009 New Jersey Tournament of Champions before she transferred to Manasquan the following summer. A rare two-time TOC champion with different schools, Mabrey averaged 19.8 points and 4.9 assists per game during her combined high school tenure, including 22.4 ppg., 8.2 rpg., and 4.9 apg., in her three seasons at Manasquan (which posted a 52-8 record in her final two years at the school).
This fall, Mabrey, Achonwa, Diggins and McBride will be part of an 11-player Notre Dame squad that went 35-4 in 2011-12, advancing to the NCAA national championship game for the second consecutive season and earning its second BIG EAST regular season title. The Fighting Irish are expected to have two starters and eight total players returning in 2012-13, along with a three-player freshman class that includes Mabrey and was ranked as high as third in the nation by All-Star Girls Report (and is a consensus top-10 class by all major recruiting services). It's the 16th consecutive year that the Fighting Irish have attracted a top-20 recruiting class, with Notre Dame being one of only three schools in the country to hold that distinction.
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