COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- After waiting a year for her opportunity, Caroline Ducharme knows she has only days to make an impression.
The 6-foot-1 freshman guard from Milton, Massachusetts, and Noble & Greenough School did not participate in the 2017 USA Basketball U-16 national team trials after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. A year later, Ducharme is here at the United States Olympic Training Center as an applicant candidate going up against the best high school players in the country seeking one of the 12 spots on the U-17 club that will participate in the FIBA U-17 World Cup in Minsk, Belarus, in July.
"This is such an honor, especially after last year and not being able to go," Ducharme said. "It means a lot to me. I've followed USA Basketball since I was little and being able to try out for a team is an honor."
A total of 158 players -- 35 invited by USA Basketball, 123 applicant candidates who paid their own way -- started Thursday. The first cuts to 102 were made Saturday afternoon. The trials wrap up Sunday with the finalists for the team being announced Monday morning.
The journey has been long for Ducharme, who is already getting looks from Division I programs.
While playing in the prestigious Boo Williams Invitational in Virginia 13 months ago, she went up to block a shot and her left knee buckled after some contact.
"Anytime you hurt your knee you think, 'ACL,' " Ducharme said. "The trainers at Boo Williams did all the manipulations and things and said the ligaments looked good. I was confident it wasn't that. I went to my doctor at home and he said it didn't look like it. But then the MRI showed the tear. I was devastated."
In May, 2017, she had surgery and six months of rehabilitation followed.
"The rehab was one of the hardest things I've been through," Ducharme said. "But I learned, not that I didn't appreciate the game before, to have fun every time that I step on the court. I know how it feels to have to watch. I see the game in a different light and I have fun every time."
Her biggest motivation to get back, though, was to play with her older sister, Ashley, for her senior year at Nobles before she went on to Brown University.
After missing one game, Ducharme returned and averaged Ducharme averaged 19.4 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in leading Nobles to a seventh consecutive NEPSAC Class A title.
"We went through a lot of injuries and we started slowly," Ducharme said. "But as the season went on everyone stepped up."
Soon after Nobles' season ended she was back to work to prepare for the U-17 trials.
She has her work cut out for her against a strong contingent of guards here, but she'll take her chances.
"I feel strong," Ducharme said. "I'm ready to give this my best shot."
KNOX STATES CONNECTICUT'S CASE
Vienna Knox was a reserve on the best high school team in Connecticut last season as Mercy High of Middletown finished 27-1 and captured the Class LL state tournament championship. But the 6-foot wing's effort at U-17 trials Friday and on Saturday morning may be the start of something big when she returns to school in the fall for her senior year.
Knox, an applicant candidate and the only Connecticut native in the group to start the trials, was willing to mix it up with some of the best players in the country. It was not enough to get her past the first cut but her competitive spirit made an impression.
"If you had told me three years ago that I would come to Colorado for tryouts for the national team I wouldn't have believed you," Knox said. "This time last year I was in the gym and my dad said, 'Do you want to try out for the national team?' I said, 'You're funny. That's crazy.' After our season, he signed me up and I started training and they called back and since I chased this opportunity.
"It means a lot to me because. No matter how this goes, this is a big learning experience. It's a great opportunity and I want to take advantage of it."
During the final session Friday night that included full-court scrimmaging, Knox had a moment that she could write home about. Playing against a group that included top Class of 2019 recruit Haley Jones and highly-touted Class of 2020 recruits Hailey Van Lith and Cameron Brink, Knox got the ball in the lane, used an up-fake, and hit a 12-foot jumper over Jones. For those not familiar with Jones, she is the reigning California Gatorade Player of the Year and a top recruiting target of the University of Connecticut. Kylee Watson, a top 2020 recruit and member of the 2017 U-16 team, said "nice move" as she watched the action from behind the baseline.
It's been a learning experience on an off the court.
"The first day of orientation I didn't know anyone," Knox said. "But we're all working for the same thing so I think that makes it easy to connect with people."
Mercy graduated five seniors and Knox is among a group of eight juniors that will try to keep the Tigers' championship reign going. She'll have an experience that no one on her team, or in her state, can fall back on.
"Seeing these national-level players and the skills they have, I can bring what I learned back to Mercy and bring it to our team," Knox said. "Maybe it will help us chase another title."
U-18 TRIALS OPEN
The 2018 U-18 national team trials opened Saturday at the USOTC and continue through Monday evening when the 12-player roster is expected to be announced.
Among the 35 players competing for spots are incoming UConn freshmen Christyn Williams (5-foot-11 guard, Little Rock, Arkansas) and Olivia Nelson-Ododa (6-foot-4 forward/center, Winder, Georgia). Williams and Nelson-Ododa arrived here Friday and took in some of the U-17 trials Friday night.
The U-18 team is coached by Louisville's Jeff Walz.
Walz was in the news Friday as it was announced by the NCAA he had been given a one-game NCAA tournament suspension for comments he made toward NCAA committee members and staff at the scorer's table during the Cardinals' overtime loss to Mississippi State in the national semifinals on March 30 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.