Kentucky's Harper going for another USA gold

tlashbrook@herald-leader.comJuly 4, 2013 

Linnae Harper, a McDonald's All-America guard from Chicago, already has USA golds with the Under-17 and U16 teams. This year with the U19 squad she'll be teamed with three Connecticut players fresh off a title and a future SEC foe, UT's Bashaara Graves.

Linnae Harper has not yet taken her first dribble as a college basketball player, but the University of Kentucky signee could arrive in Lexington for classes this fall with three Team USA gold medals to her name.

Harper is one of 12 players who will represent the United States' U19 team that will travel to Lithuania for the 2013 FIBA World Championship for Women July 18-28.

The 5-foot-7 guard from Whitney Young High School in Chicago won gold medals with the U17 team in 2012 and the U16 team in 2011.

Even with her background with Team USA, Harper was unsure if she was going to make this year's U19 team.

The U19 squad is not limited to high school players. Collegiate players who meet the age limit are eligible to try out.

Breanna Stewart is one of the 12 players on the U19 team. She was a freshman on the University of Connecticut's national championship team last season, scoring 23 points in the title game against Louisville. Stewart is joined by two of her UConn teammates, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck. The squad includes three other college players, including Bashaara Graves of Tennessee.

The team, which was named in May, reconvened for training on Tuesday in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Playing with players like Stewart, who have performed well on a big stage, will help Harper on and off the court.

Harper said her past USA teams focused on having fun and enjoying representing the United States, but this year's team is geared toward bringing home the gold medal.

"Our practices this summer will be more (about) competing: up-tempo, up and down the court more, fast drills," Harper said.

That type of practice environment will help prepare her for college basketball's intensity.

Harper recently visited Lexington and was able to bond with her Kentucky teammates and coaches. She, along with Kentucky's Miss Basketball Makayla Epps, headlines UK's 2013 recruiting class.

The two were opponents at the 2013 McDonald's All-American Game in Chicago. Harper said that she and Epps became close during that weekend.

With Harper, Epps and Epps' Marion County High School teammate, Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, Kentucky has one of the top recruiting classes in all of college basketball.

"Something I look for is people that understand and get how special Kentucky is," UK Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "All three of them bring very, very important skill sets to our team to add value to us."

Mitchell said that Harper wanted her college of choice to be supportive of her decision to play for Team USA.

And Harper has always had Mitchell's full support. "It's something that I really admire," he said. "In my mind there's no greater honor but being an Olympian and representing your country on the world's biggest athletic stage."

Tyler Lashbrook: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @lashy

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