Gold medals are heavy. De’Janae Boykin can tell you that. She’s had one since her USA Basketball U16 team cruised to the FIBA Americas title last summer, kept in her Springdale home along with her jersey from that tournament, boxes and boxes of college recruiting letters from the nation’s top programs, the 2014 Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year Award, and so on and so on.
But the gold medal she added to that collection earlier this month, the one she and her U17 teammates won at the FIBA World Championships, carries more weight.
“The coaches told us, ‘This is not like it was last year,’ ” Boykin said. “There are much better teams, much better competition, and we were going to have to work for everything.”
Though Boykin and the Americans won all seven games they played, some by lopsided final scores in the early rounds, they were pushed in the final, a 77-75 win over Spain. The United States has never lost a game (23-0) in the U17 FIBA World Championships, held first in 2010.
C.H. Flowers, a young team that grew into the second-best team in Prince George’s 4A over the course of last season, relies on Boykin for gaudy scoring and rebounding numbers. Twenty-point, 20-rebound stuff (she averaged 21 and 16), bringing the ball up and scoring too, through double-teams and defenses schemed just for her.
But Boykin’s most comfortable in a role assessed by the numbers of those around her: facilitating, distributing, and rebounding. That’s the spot she filled for the U.S. at the World Championships, starting every game at forward and playing the third-most minutes of any American (21.6 per game).
“Coming in, I don’t want to say I didn’t care what my role would be, but I knew whatever role the coaches chose for me, I’d just want to play that role,” Boykin said. “I wanted to do what I could to help the team win, so I was glad I could do that.”
She finished second on the team in rebounds with 43, including 18 off the offensive glass for an average of more than six per game. She was second on the team in assists, too, and averaged 5.1 points in seven games. She shot 46 percent from the field, third on the team.
“It’s a relief, a weight off your shoulders to have such good players around you because other people can do those things you’re trying to do in high school,” Boykin said. “I could focus on the things I really do well — rebounding, looking for the open player and just trying to help everybody out.”
That’s likely the kind of role Boykin will play at UConn, where she’ll head after her senior season. She committed to Geno Auriemma and the Huskies in the spring.
When she gets to Storrs, Boykin will get used to playing on national television, as the Huskies are one of the most televised women’s basketball teams in the country, often playing deep into March. But before the world championships, she’d only played on ESPN once before, as a freshman at Riverdale Baptist. Playing in the championship game, televised across the country on ESPN on a Sunday afternoon, was a big deal to Boykin and her teammates.
“At first we thought they were just playing with us,” she said. “We just played and focused on the game, but it was pretty cool.”
The airing was great for Boykin’s family members, who couldn’t make the trip to the Czech Republic, but were able to watch from six time zones away.
“They wanted to come so bad,” Boykin said. “So they texted and called after every game. It was just amazing to know they could watch every game, and even though they weren’t there in person, they were still supporting me all the way back here at home.”
Related: Boykin commits to U-Conn.