By Carl Adamec
Playing for USA Basketball is as natural for Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis as shooting a 3-point shot.
The University of Connecticut rising junior All-American has spent four of the last five summers representing her country. The only miss came a year ago when there wasn’t a national team for her age group.
“It’s awesome. It’s always a great experience playing for USA Basketball,” Mosqueda-Lewis said Wednesday.
Mosqueda-Lewis is back at what has seemingly become a third home for her next to Anaheim Hills, Calif., and Gampel Pavilion — the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs — as the U.S. World University Games team prepares for competition.
Team USA will leave for the site of the Games, Kazan, Russia, on Monday for a week of training camp there. Its first pool play game is set for July 8 against Belarus. The Czech Republic and Brazil are also in the Americans’ pool.
“I’ve never been to Russia, but I love new experiences,” Mosqueda-Lewis said.
Mosqueda-Lewis made the 12-player squad at trials held in Colorado Springs last month. UConn rising senior guard Bria Hartley is also on the team.
The 6-foot forward is the youngest player on the World University Games team (she turns 20 on Nov. 3) but is as experienced as any. She has won gold in her three previous international competitions — the 2009 FIBA Americas U-16 tournament, the 2010 FIBA U-17 world championships, and the 2011 FIBA U-19 world championships.
“We’re not a big team so we have to use our speed and quickness and be a fast-breaking team,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “But we’re also a versatile team so we’re doing all the things that we need to do to get ready.
“I think I’ve been playing well. I’m in a different position with this team in that I’m playing a lot more in the post rather than being a guard. I’m one of the players that has confidence and experience playing in the post and I’ll do whatever I can to help the team. And playing the 4, I actually really like it a lot.”
Mosqueda-Lewis’ versatility began to come through during her sophomore season at UConn and it helped her become an All-American and the Huskies win a record tying eighth national championship.
She averaged 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds as she shot 52.8 percent from the floor, a nation’s best 49.2 percent from 3-point land, and 89.5 percent from the foul. She increased her rebounds, assists, and steals from her freshman year. She became the fourth UConn sophomore to score 1,000 points, reaching the plateau Feb. 23 against Seton Hall. She was named to the all-Big East first team and became the fifth UConn sophomore to be selected to the WBCA All-America team, joining Svetlana Abrosimova (1999), Diana Taurasi (2002), Maya Moore (2009), and Hartley (2012).
She was also named to the NCAA Bridgeport all-regional and all-Final Four teams. She had 18 points and nine rebounds in the championship game win over Louisville April 9 at New Orleans Arena.
In between school and working on her game and preparing for the trials, she was able to spend some time at home on the west coast.
“It was nice for the first couple weeks after the season, but Coach (Geno Auriemma) was quick to remind me that I still have two more years and I have a lot of work to do,” Mosqueda-Lewis said.
With the World University Games team, she’s being coached by Oklahoma’s Sherri Coale.
“She kind of reminds me of Coach Auriemma and she’s been awesome,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “She knows how to motivate and she knows the right things to say and how and when to say them. We’re excited to play for her.”
Like Mosqueda-Lewis, Hartley has also won three gold medals with USA Basketball — the 2010 FIBA Americas U-18 tournament, the 2011 FIBA U-19 world championships, and the 2012 FIBA 3×3 world championships.
The other national champion on the roster is Baylor rising senior All-America guard Odyssey Sims, who won gold as a member of the 2011 World University Games squad.
“Bria’s been Bria,” Mosqueda-Lewis said. “She’s playing well and making shots and doing the things that Bria does.
“And I’m excited about playing with Odyssey Sims. I’ve never really played with a point guard like her. Moriah Jefferson is the closest thing but she was only a freshman last season and her best days are in front of her. Odyssey has that talent and experience and is just a great player.”
After opening with Belarus, Team USA faces the Czech Republic on July 9 and Brazil on July 10. The top two teams in each of the four four-team pools advance to the quarterfinals on July 12. The semifinals are July 13 and the gold medal game July 15.