Maryland women’s basketball guard Kristen Confroy stood in front of television cameras Thursday at Xfinity Center holding a white jersey with a bright red “USA” emblazoned on the front. With the rest of the team warming up behind her, she smiled and quipped, “Ni hao,” as in “hello” in Mandarin, before turning away and grimacing.
“That could have been better,” she said with a laugh.
Confroy has some brushing up to do before the Terrapins head to Taipei, Taiwan, next month, where they will represent the United States in the World University Games. It will be just the second time a full women’s college basketball team has represented the United States at the games, which are held biennially. UNC Charlotte represented Team USA in 2007.
“There definitely is a high standard,” sophomore guard Blair Watson said, “especially since because you go from having Maryland across your chest to Team USA. . . . I feel like it’s a big challenge, but I think we’re ready for it.”
Maryland will begin pool play against Uganda on Aug. 21, and medal rounds begin Aug. 25. To prepare for the tournament, the Terps started practice in June with sessions that don’t count as official NCAA practices, even though Maryland’s full roster is present.
The Terps graduated two starters — Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones — and had three players from last year’s team transfer, including last season’s starting point guard, Destiny Slocum. The team also lost redshirt junior Kiara Leslie, who redshirted for the 2016-17 season but played 67 games at Maryland, when the North Carolina native graduated and decided to spend her remaining two years of eligibility at N.C. State.
For a group missing that many key pieces from last season — and integrating freshman point guard Channise Lewis , who arrived on campus in June — these summer practices have been precious time spent together.
“It is a little bit different on the court because we lost so many — we lost such big pieces with Shatori and Bri,” Confroy said. “So this summer’s really been about getting on the court and figuring people out and who’s going to step into what roles. . . . Our roles are changing quite a bit. This summer, being able to prep for USA has been such an awesome opportunity beyond that we get to represent the country. It’s also allowed us to jell as a team and prep for next season.”
Maryland is anticipating physical competition when it gets to Taipei. The Terps are adding former Terrapins player Malina Howard and former all-Big Ten guard Tori Jankoska from Michigan State for the tournament because they are allowed to take up to 12 players abroad, and athletes between ages 17 and 24 who have been in college within the past year are eligible to participate.
In addition to securing enough bodies to withstand a schedule of possibly six games in eight days, Coach Brenda Frese has been chatting with Northwestern women’s basketball Coach Joe McKeown, who headed Team USA in the 2015 games, to get an idea of what the tournament will be like.
Jones won gold as part of that squad and has been a source of information for the current team as well. In all, 10 of Frese’s former players have won gold medals representing the United States.
Most of them say the same thing: Prepare to take some elbows.
“These aren’t, like, friendly games,” Frese said. “They’re going to be physical, maybe what would be deemed a foul over here may not be the same kind of call over there, so just being able to handle the adversity, the environment. Gyms could be air-conditioned, they could have no air conditioning. It’s just a lot of different. [McKeown] also talked about the Olympic Village and what that looks like with 12,000 athletes and coaches trying to navigate their way through a village.”
Maryland was selected to Pool C along with the Czech Republic, Uganda and Poland. Twelve other countries qualified for the women’s basketball tournament, and thousands of athletes of varying nationalities from other sports will be housed together.
The Terps won’t have much time for sightseeing, as they did in last year’s summer trip to Italy, but they are looking forward to trying some new cuisine if they have time.
The primary goal is bringing home a record 10th gold medal for Team USA.
“The way I like to put it is our trip to Italy felt like a vacation . . . it really was just hanging out outside of basketball,” Confroy said. “I think this trip, it’s more competitive. When we get there, we’re really going to battle.”
But first, they’ll try to learn some Mandarin on the plane.