Samantha Brunelle, the top-ranked girls basketball player in the Class of 2019, will be writing a diary for USA TODAY High School Sports in her experiences with the USA Basketball U16 Women’s National Team in Argentina. Here we introduce you to her:
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Rocky Mountains feature some of the world’s largest tar pits, the material used to make asphalt so it makes sense that it is here in the Rockies that Samantha Brunelle leads USA Basketball’s U16 Team.
Brunelle grew up in rural Virginia, playing on a homemade asphalt court built for her by her parents, and becoming the nation’s top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2019.
The 6-3 forward is the most veteran member of Team USA’s U16 team. In 2016, Brunelle was a member of the bronze medal team at the FIBA U17 World Championships, in which the Americans went 6-1. That team’s one loss was in the semifinals.
The USA team is wrapping up training camp and heading to Argentina for the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, which begin this week.
“It’s definitely helped me become more of a leader on this team,” Brunelle said of her prior USA Basketball experience. “Being the veteran, bringing the positive energy to keep the girls up and teach them more about international basketball.”
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Brunelle has undoubtedly moved to one of the team’s foremost voice between the lines.
“She’s got a lot of experience being on the team last year so she’s got a calmness about her on the court and you feel really confident with her,” head coach Carla Berube said. “She’s got a really versatile game. She shoots the three really well, but she’s also a really good interior passer, high-low passer, she scores well at the rim and with her back to the basket. Her versatilely is awesome for a player her size and with her touch.”
Her game is unique, one that’s not often seen in the women’s game. Her favorite player is WNBA superstar Elena Delle Donne, and it’s easy to see the comparison, forwards with two-way games and a plethora of ways to attack the basket.
“I’m definitely not 6-5, but I am 6-plus, and I can go inside out and that’s a big part of the comparison,” she said. “ I’m able to post up on smaller matchups and step out and hit the three.”
As a sophomore at William Monroe (Standardsville, Va.) this past season, she led the team with 25 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 3.4 blocks per game. She has started all 50 games of her varsity career and reached 1,000 points in her 40th game.
Beyond her basketball skills are her communication skills.
“I got to know her last year and in just this week I’ve been with her she has been a leader for these younger players who have never been through this experience. She’s shown them the way,” Berube said. “We’ve been working on a lot of off the court gelling and she’s done a good job stepping up and being that strong leader that we need.”
Brunelle speaks of leadership in the way someone much older might, and that might be why it has come so naturally to her.
“It’s a verbal thing 100 percent,” Brunelle said. “Whatever you say to them that’s how it comes across to them so you gotta make sure you’re saying the right things and always keeping them up.”
Following her medal last season, she returned to Ruckersville, Va., where she was surprised with a police escort to her high school. Hundreds of residents showed in the streets as she drove by, and her friends awaited at the high school.
What will happen to Greene County if Team USA wins with Brunelle starring?
“It’s hard to say,” she said. “Last year it was a surprise I had no idea I was going to do that. Who knows what’s going to happen?”