Capping Busy Summer of International Hoops, PU Star Alarie Playing for U.S. in Pan Am Games
PANNING OUT: Bella Alarie goes up for a shot last winter in in her junior season for the Princeton University women’s basketball team. This week, Alarie, a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year, will be competing for the U.S. squad at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Never has Bella Alarie been so happy to have a list alphabetized as the Princeton University senior was the first name announced to make the United States women’s basketball team for the Pan American Games after tryouts this May in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“It’s just so exciting to hear your name called,” said the 6’4 Alarie, a native of Bethesda, Md. and a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year.
“I was kind of shaking a little bit. I was thinking, ‘I really did this.’ It’s hard to hear the other names called, but I made a lot of other friends and to hear some of their names called was just really exciting.”
Alarie is one of three players from the U-19 national team that won silver in the 2017 World Cup to make the squad which will be competing for the U.S. in the XVIII Pan Am games in Lima, Peru this week.
“It’s surreal,” said Alarie. “To be selected to even try out for a team like this is a huge honor. To know that the committee saw something in me that I could bring to the team so we could bring back a gold medal, because that’s the standard USA Basketball has, that means so much to me. I’m always proud and excited to wear USA across my chest, no matter where it’s trials, 3×3 or Pan American Games. My teammates and I are really hungry to get out there and work as hard as we can.”
After the selection process was complete, the U.S. team returned to the training center in Colorado Springs from July 23-August 5 to fine-tune things before starting play on August 6 when it was slated to face Argentina in Group B action.
Looking ahead to the competition, Alarie is determined to come home with gold.
“I look back at my experience at U-19 and I’m so much more motivated to come back with a gold medal,” said Alarie, whose team will play U.S. Virgin Islands on August 7 and Columbia on August 8 with the semis starting on August 9 and the gold medal game set for August 10.
“It was kind of heartbreaking to go and come back with a silver medal from the U-19 tournament. I just think with the Pan American Games the stakes are higher. It is a bunch of older basketball players who have way more experience, but this team is really good. We have as good a chance as any to come back with the gold medal. Taking my experience from U-19, knowing that feeling, that heartbreak coming back without achieving the goal you set, makes this all the more important to me and to my other teammates that had the same experience with me in U-19s, and all these new players that have their first opportunity to win a gold medal for the United States. I’m two years older and two years more experienced and I’m way more confident as a player. I’m just really excited.”
After 35 players were invited to try out in Colorado Springs, the 12-player team was announced May 20. The team was selected by a committee of coaches watching the tryouts.
“I knew I played well,” said Alarie. “I hit shots and did what I was supposed to do. You don’t know what they’re looking for in that year and what type of teammates they want. I tried to be the best teammate I could be and tried to show off what I’m best at. That worked out for the best. Honestly, I had no idea if I was going to make it or not. There were so many good post players around me.”
The Pan Am Games added another commitment in a busy summer for Alarie. Prior to the national team tryout, Alarie already had been to Las Vegas to compete for a spot on the new 3×3 national basketball team that will be contested in the 2020 Olympics.
Just a week after making the 5×5 team for the Pan American Games, Alarie was playing her first international 3×3 tournament in China to kick off a busy summer that has seen her play 3×3 tournaments in Italy and Russia in the World Cup tournament as they try to collect points for the United States to join the Olympics qualifying field. Alarie is one of the potential players in the 3×3 national pool for the 2020 Olympics.
“I love the speed,” said Alarie. “It’s nice for me. I can just get the rebound, throw it out to one of my teammates and post up. I don’t have to move around that much. It’s easier. It’s really fun. I think it’s also fun to watch. A five-point lead is actually not that much. You can grab the ball and keep scoring. It’s never totally out of your hands. People take cool, sometimes crazy buzzer-beater shots. It’s a fun spectator sport. It’s obviously a lot faster than a four-quarter, 40-minute game. It’s definitely an adjustment. It’s so much more physical than the basketball I’m used to in the NCAA. That’s been the biggest adjustment for my teammates and I.”
Alarie was looking forward to getting back into 5×5 action for the Pan Am team’s training camp, an intense week-and-a half together when the team pulls everything together before playing for gold. Team USA has explosive, creative guards and strong post players for which to design an offense.
“What I remember from U-19, is that we did a lot of team bonding,” said Alarie.
“You have to become a team as fast as you can. We end up spending so much time together and the selection committee does a really good job of finding girls who are excited to play together, who are the types of players that buy into a system and want to work as a team. They don’t pick players that would make that difficult. It’s definitely going to be a grind for training camp. It’s always really fun to watch your team get so much better as a unit over those nine days together.”
Having played U-19 is a bonus for Alarie as she is bringing experience into another training camp.
“I’m going into this a little more prepared, which is a good feeling to know what to expect,” said Alarie. “Obviously it’s a whole new group of girls and coaches, but to have that sense of comfort that I know what it’ll be like a little bit, has helped me prepare better this summer.”
Almost overlooked while preparing for her Team USA commitments is that Alarie and her Princeton teammates are preparing to adjust to a new coach, Carla Berube, who was named to replace Courtney Banghart at the end of May. Banghart’s departure for North Carolina and Berube’s hiring came as Alarie was in the midst of 3×3 tryouts and then Pan Am tryouts and brought another significant event to her playing career.
“It’s a huge turnaround,” said Alarie, who averaged 22.8 points and 10.6 rebounds a game last winter as the Tigers won their second straight Ivy League title.
“I’ve been able to meet Coach Berube and talk to her. She’s so awesome. I’m excited to have her as a coach. I’ve heard only great things from one of her players, Lilly Pero, at Tufts, who was one of my AAU teammates. She texted me right away, ‘I’m so jealous, you’re getting my coach. I really look up to her.’ It’s great to know she’s had such a huge special impact on people I really trust. From our interactions together, I worked a Princeton camp, I got to know her better. She brought a great staff in. We’re all really excited to come back in the fall and it’s kind of like a reset button. It’s a good one. It’s going to be really positive and certainly different, but we’re all really excited.”
Alarie will be even more excited if she can return for her final collegiate season with a gold medal from the Pan Am Games as it would cap a whirlwind summer that’s kept her busy with basketball all over the world.
“I didn’t expect the summer to be like this at all; when I was planning for it, I was going to get an internship and work out in my free time,” said Alarie.
“When I was getting recruited for the Ivy League, one of the things about it is we don’t have any summer school so there’s all this opportunity to travel and do global seminars and internships. I’ve been lucky to play basketball in the summers and get to travel so much. Once I knew I’d be playing 3×3, I knew I’d be busy traveling, and then I made the Pan American team so there goes four weeks playing for U.S. again. Besides that, I’m home for a week and a half and then I go somewhere else and then I’m home and go somewhere else. When I’m home, I’m working out with my trainer just trying to get better, work on my game, and not get out of shape. It’s just been a really busy basketball summer for me, but I honestly would not have it any other way. It’s such a blessing to literally travel the world and do what I love to do most.”