Arianna Wallace stood along the baseline, about 10 feet from the basketball hoop, wearing a white T-shirt emblazoned with “USA” in red letters.
Her body stiffened as she raised her elbows to her head. She flicked her wrist and sent the orange basketball she had been holding sailing toward the rim.
Wallace, 16, trotted to the end of the line of a dozen or so girls waiting to perform in front of some of the best athletes in the world.
Saturday morning, about a hundred girls and teenagers took to the hardwood basketball court in the D.C. Armory as players from the women’s national basketball team hosted a clinic for daughters of members of the U.S. military.
The hour-long session was part of USA Basketball’s Hoops for Troops program, a way of showing appreciation for members of the military and promoting national pride ahead of the 2012 Olympics. The clinic was followed by a practice and scrimmage by the men’s national team.
About 3,400 service members and their families crammed the three sets of bleachers surrounding the court, whooping at LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and cheering as the girls ran through layup, dribbling and passing drills.
“We just wanted to do something special for the girls,” said Kathy Behrens, executive vice president of communications and player programs for the NBA, which helped put the event together.
The audience included those wounded during service and veterans from across the military.
Standing on the sideline, Wallace, who lives in Delaware but has been staying in the D.C. area with family, was in tears. She waved her arms frantically, describing the thrill of seeing some her favorite players, such as 6-foot, 4-inch tall WNBA star Candace Parker.
“I’m loving it so much,” Wallace said. “I just love basketball.”
The girls ranged in age from about 6 to 16. Some were only three feet tall, dwarfed by the WNBA players coaching them. Though the basketball they threw never made it to the hoop, they didn’t seem deterred.
Amani Evans, 14, who lives on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Southwest, said the clinic “actually gave you inspiration, because they were once us.”
Evans, who has been playing basketball since she was 8, said she was hoping to make the high school basketball team, her aspirations buoyed by the attention from national stars.
The 2012 London Olympics are less than two weeks away, with the women’s team beginning its competition July 28 against Croatia. The men’s team takes on France the following day.
But for now, the players’ attention was on the service members and their daughters.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Parker said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for those who serve and protect us.”