MURFREESBORO – Crystal Dangerfield will one day be a Connecticut Huskie.
But she spent a portion of her summer in Russia, improving her point-guard skills with tips from South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, a former standout point guard at Virginia.
Dangerfield, a Blackman High senior, helped Team USA win a gold medal in the U19 FIBA World Championships in Russia this past month. Staley coached the team.
“She is one of the greatest point guards to play,” Dangerfield said. “I was learning everything that she could teach me at the point. I’m hoping to take that back and help my team (at Blackman).”
Dangerfield, a 5-foot-5 point guard, had one-on-one time with Staley virtually every day in practice as the coach gave the Lady Blaze standout tips to improve her game.
Dangerfield averaged 18.5 minutes in the seven games with Team USA. She averaged 6.4 points and 2 steals and dished out 2.7 assists a game.
Oh, and she had just 0.6 turnovers a game.
Not bad for the 17-year-old, who was the youngest player on the roster.
The international experience was an eye-opener for the two-time Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year. Dangerfield was forced to adjust to the more physical play allowed.
“We can’t play that physical here,” said Dangerfield, who was named the TSSAA’s Class AAA Miss Basketball this past season. “They officiate differently. I think playing in that style of play will help me this fall.
“They are bigger too. I had to play stronger. It wasn’t something that you see in Rutherford County. They just let the game play. What you would think is a foul here, isn’t a foul there. So you just learn to play through it.”
One thing that was similar to Rutherford County was the crowd intensity, especially in the gold-medal game against Russia.
The United States won 78-70 in front of a large rowdy home crowd with just a few from the United States in the stands. The United States went 7-0, winning the four tournament games by an average of 30.3 points a game.
Dangerfield, who also won a gold medal in 2013 in the FIBA Americas U16 Championships, said representing her country is an honor.
“It nearly brings tears to your eyes when they play the national anthem after you win the gold,” she said. “It’s just an honor. It makes you really proud.”
Dangerfield now plans on taking a break from basketball to rest up for her final season at Blackman. The Lady Blaze went 24-1 over the summer with new coach Jessica Jackson, who replaced Chad Hibdon in the offseason.
“I don’t know what my teammates are doing, but it’s a dead period for me,” Dangerfield said. “I’m waiting before a couple weeks before we start open gym and stuff.
“Right now I’m just resting my body. It’s going to be a long season — they have all been long. But it’s my senior year. It’s going to be a more leadership role, and not just on the court but also off of it.”
Elizabethton, a Class AA school in East Tennessee, was the lone team to beat the Lady Blaze during summer team camp. Blackman, which has won the past two TSSAA Class AAA state championships, graduated four Division I signees, including guard Meme Jackson (Tennessee) and center Alex Johnson (MTSU).
Blackman does return starter Jazz Bond, a South Florida commitment.
“I saw some bright spots (in the summer),” Dangerfield said. “But I also saw some spots we have to get better at. I’m looking forward to this season.”
Reach Tom Kreager at 615-278-5168 or on Twitter @Kreager.