Katie Lou Samuelson was the youngest player at this weekend's United States senior national team training camp, which wrapped up Monday in Santa Barbara, California.
The University of Connecticut junior was 5 when the oldest player in camp, former Huskies' point guard Sue Bird, won her first gold medal with the senior team at the 2002 FIBA world championships.
Taking a pass from a four-time Olympic gold medalist and the WNBA's all-time assist leader can leave a collegian -- even an All-American like Samuelson -- a bit awestruck.
"It's definitely one of the things we knew coming here," Samuelson said. "At the same time we're all competitors and we're all going to go out there and do our best no matter who we're playing against. But there's going to be those moments where we talk to the older guys and learn about them and from them. This is an opportunity not many of us have and I'm so fortunate to get it."
Samuelson and fellow UConn junior All-American Napheesa Collier were among five college players at the training camp, the first under new national team coach Dawn Staley. Of the 12 WNBA players in camp, six -- Bird, Tiffany Hayes, Stefanie Dolson, Kiah Stokes, Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck -- were UConn graduates.
And Bird was impressed with what the young Huskies showed over the three days.
"They both did great," Bird said. "There's a tendency for young players, particularly college players, when they come into a camp like this to be a little nervous, a little hesitant. But they were confident. They knew exactly what they were doing out there. They played very composed, they showed a lot of composure for young players and it was impressive to see that."
The UConn juniors played alongside Tuck and Stewart on the Huskies' 2016 national championship team. But whether they're Huskies now or have moved on, they're one family.
"My previous USA training camps have been with players that were my age," Collier said. "To be here with players that are older, that are professionals, is just a great experience and I'm doing all I can to learn from them and gain from the experience.
"Of course, you hear the stories from when they were in school and how they practiced and how they played. Now you watch and they're going 100 percent right from the get-go and that makes for great competition. It's amazing how they compete. To experience that now can only help me."
Samuelson has won five gold medals playing for USA Basketball (2014 Youth Olympic Games, 2014 FIBA U-17 world championships, 2013 FIBA Americas U-16 championship, 2013 FIBA 3x3 U-18 world championships, 2013 FIBA Americas 3x3 U-18 championships), as well as a bronze (2014 Youth Olympic Games shootout competition). She was a member of the all-tournament team at the U-17 world championships three years ago.
The Huntington Beach, California, resident was a consensus first-team All-American and the American Athletic Conference Co-Player of the Year with Collier as a sophomore at UConn as she averaged 20.2 points on 48.6 percent shooting from the floor, 3.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists. She reached 1,000 points on Feb. 27 against South Florida, and on March 6 in the AAC tournament final against the Bulls, set a NCAA record by going 10-for-10 from 3-point range in a career-high 40-point performance that earned her Most Outstanding Player honors.
"It's been a different feeling coming here," Samuelson said. "To be on the court with players at that level and seeing what they do has been an awesome experience. Whether I'm playing or not, I've been watching and trying to learn. For example, Sue has been talking to me about guarding players quicker than me and using my length to my advantage. I've seen certain things that maybe I wasn't aware of before. That's made this such a great experience.
"But when you're on the court with them you have to stay confident and bring something to the table. We're here for a reason. The biggest thing is to go as hard as you can and do the things you know you're good at the best you can."
Collier led the AAC in scoring (20.4), field-goal percentage (67.8) and blocks (2.1) as a sophomore while also ranking third in rebounds, sharing the conference's top honor and being a consensus first-team All-American. The St. Charles, Missouri, resident recorded 16 double-doubles and joined UConn's 1,000-point club on March 27 in its win over Oregon when she was named the NCAA Bridgeport Regional Most Outstanding Player. She scored a career-high 39 points against USF on Feb. 27.
She has captured three gold medals playing for USA Basketball (2015 FIBA U-19 world championship, 2014 FIBA Americas U-18 championship, 2014 Youth Olympic Games) and was a member of the all-tournament team at the U-19 world championships two years ago.
"I thought that I worked hard but these players have made me see that there's a whole other level to working hard," Collier said. "They make sure that they're prepared to play and they start right in warmups. There's no going through the motions. They take it seriously that they're 100 percent ready to go. That's something I want to take back to school with me."
The Huskies will begin official practice late next week. Their exhibition opener is Nov. 1 against Division II Fort Hays State, and they begin the regular season in the "Countdown to Columbus" against Stanford at Nationwide Arena on Nov. 12.