Written by Dylan Cummings, IWBF junior writer.
Recently, IWBF caught up with gold medal-winning USA Paralympian Desiree Miller ahead of the IWBF Americas Cup which will take place in Cali, Columbia between August 21-31. This competition will serve as the Americas zone qualifier for next year’s World Championships.
29-year-old Desiree Miller, who has been part of the USA women’s programme since 2007, explained it had been a long process for the women’s national team preparing for the 2017 Americas Cup. The try-outs for the competition were back in January when 16 athletes were selected, and then after a preparation camp in May the field was cut down from 16 to the final 12.
She continued to discuss how the team has gone through some major changes since winning the Paralympic Games in Rio last September, with herself, Abby Dunkin and Vanessa Erskine the only three members in the team who were part of that gold winning squad, saying most of the squad selected for the Americas Cup are “brand new” to the USA basketball programme.
However, she added, “There’s been a high level of competition throughout the squad within the last few months and everybody has been working hard to earn their spot.”
Being one of the more experienced members of the squad, Miller, from Monroe, Washington, looks to be a mentor for the new talent. “It’s really exciting to see what’s up and coming for USA basketball.”
As the team heads to Colombia, Miller is hoping to solidify her mentor role within the team. As well as being a positive influence on and off the court to the newer members of the squad, she also aims to be a supportive teammate should anyone need someone to lean on during the process of being thrown into high-paced, highly competitive games that a lot of the newer members haven’t experienced.
Post-Rio initially Miller thought the regrouping process of the team would be “more challenging” due to the success the team had in Rio. However, she is pleased with how quickly the squad has bonded together and picked up on head coach, Trooper Johnson’s basketball knowledge and coaching style philosophy. She has enjoyed watching the new squad members develop their USA basketball identities.
Miller believes the Americas Cup will also be a good opportunity for the newcomers to gain valuable game-time at an international level.
When asked about the team’s hopes and ambitions for Colombia, Miller said, “As a group, we have high expectations of ourselves and always have. As part of team USA, we always push for gold, we always hope for gold and try not to settle for anything less.”
To achieve their ambitions, USA will have to be mentally as well as physically prepared for the Americas Cup, so how will they ensure they are mentally ready?
She said, “There are multiple distractions teams face when travelling to different countries. You must learn to adapt to different altitudes, foods, sleeping patterns, and cultures.”
Miller goes through the mental process of taking things one step at a time rather than to focus on the big picture because when she focuses on the big picture she feels that she doesn’t perform to the best of her ability.
The Americas Cup, will be Miller’s first-ever venture to Colombia and she is “certainly excited” for the high-level of competition at the event which will lead to some good games between great teams as well as meeting new people and experiencing new cultures.
Finally, Miller was asked who she thought are the main teams to watch out for in the tournament, to which she replied, “We always have our long-standing history with Canada. Anytime we hit the floor with that team, the rivalry is just fierce and both teams push their heart out every time we play each other.”
She also highlighted not to underestimate the South American team of Brazil, “They are up-and-coming team and bring a lot of passion to the court which can sometimes be overwhelming for teams to deal with how expressive and loud they can be.”
Ahead of the Americas Cup, Miller and her teammates will be enjoying final preparations in Birmingham, Alabama between the 2nd – 4th August, where they will play Canada in a number of friendly games. She finished, “By the time we head into Colombia we should be good to go and clicking on all cylinders.” (*Friendly games can be watched live on NWBA’s Facebook page.)