Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Lisa Fortier still has a few things to learn about the international game.
Fortier also has a lot to offer, however, which is why she was selected as a coach at last month’s USA Basketball Junior National Team trials.
Held at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, it was a gathering place for the best and brightest in women’s basketball.
Most of them were players, 12 of whom will return to Colorado next month before competing in the Women’s U19 World Cup in Bangkok, Thailand.
Others will compete in the Pan-American games in Peru.
All are rising stars, but then again, so is Fortier, who is coming off a record-setting 29-5 season that included a West Coast Conference title and a second-round berth in the NCAA Tournament.
In five years under Fortier, the Zags have reached the tournament four times. That certainly impressed Carol Callan, who for the past 23 years has been director of the USA women’s national team.
For good measure, Fortier asked Callan last year about the opportunity to work the trials.
“I wanted to let them know that I wanted to do it,” said Fortier, who was selected to be one of four court coaches.
“Thrilled and honored” at her first national assignment, Fortier was joined by head coaches Aaron Johnston of South Dakota State, Nikki McCray-Penson of Old Dominion and DeLisha Milton-Jones from WCC rival Pepperdine.
For five days, from May 16-20, the foursome assisted the USA U19 and U.S. Pan American Games coaching staffs with on-court drills and skills sessions.
Fortier also worked with rotating groups of five players chosen by head coach Jeff Walz of Louisville.
In other words, Fortier was an assistant coach, something she hadn’t done since taking over the GU program five years ago.
“It was fun to be an assistant again after all these years,” Fortier said. “And working with Jeff, I got to see how he spoke to the team and ran drills. It was a great learning opportunity.”
Since everyone in Colorado Springs was a head coach, it was a “great chance to network and talk shop,” Fortier said.
“Of course, I figured that part out,” Fortier said.
Helping create a national team was an entirely new, goosebump-inducing experience.
“It’s a different feeling,” Fortier said. “I tell players how important it is to play for their country – obviously, I never had that chance.”
Her lack of international experience showed early in the week, when an opposing player was at the free-throw line.
Seeing only three of her players in the lane, Fortier called for another before learning that international rules allow only three (the NCAA allows four players).
By week’s end, the teams were selected and Fortier was off for a family vacation in Mexico.
Returning to Spokane this week, Fortier is back to doing Gonzaga things: planning summer and fall practices, recruiting and trying to fill out the Zags’ nonconference schedule for the upcoming season.
She’s better for the experience in Colorado. But would she do it again?
“Definitely,” Fortier said.
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