Back in June, Jolene Anderson didn’t know if she would even make the team. After suffering a facial injury on the final day of a trial tournament in San Diego, Anderson underwent an emergency root canal while her teammates battled for the final roster spots.
That day, Anderson lay in a dentist’s chair while her teammates accepted gold medals at the International Sports Invitational. One month later, Anderson — now fitted with temporary teeth following her surgery — joined her teammates on the medal stand as the United States U-19 team captured gold at the 2005 World Championship Tournament in Tunis, Tunisia.
After a tumultuous tryout, Anderson was on the floor as Team USA cruised past Serbia & Montenegro 97-76 July 24 in the gold medal game, capping a perfect 8-0 world championship run.
Anderson and Team USA sailed through the tournament, leading all nations in points scored (105.2 per game) and points allowed (58.9 per game) to win by an average of 46.4 points per game. For Anderson, earning her roster spot proved a far more harrowing experience.
Anderson was one of 15 players selected to compete in the trial tournament in San Diego, the International Sports Invitational. After winning all four games to capture gold at the Invite, three players were sent home as the world championship roster slimmed to 12. Anderson played just four minutes in the final game before an injury forced her to undergo the emergency root canal that left her with a set of temporary teeth during the world championships.
Though her tryout was cut short, Anderson did enough during the first three days to survive the final cut.
“All 15 of us went to one room and then they called out three of them and they talked to them separately,” Anderson said. “When I wasn’t one of the three, I knew I was in.”
Though Anderson would not get her permanent teeth put in until after the world championship tournament, the USA medical staff cleared her to play following the root canal.
“I’m good to go,” Anderson said before leaving for Tunisia.
Anderson and her new teammates reconvened June 28 for a training session in Colorado Springs, Co. before traveling to Washington, D.C. July 3 for three days of training at American University. The newly formed Team USA then held five more days of training and a pair of exhibition games against the Hungarian U-19 squad in Budapest, Hungary before the world championships kicked off in Tunisia July 15. Then, all that remained was the small matter of matching up against the top players in the world during Anderson’s first trip outside US borders.
“I really want Jolene just to savor the moment,” Wisconsin head coach Lisa Stone said. “This is a special opportunity. Enjoy the moment, every bit of it.”
Stone, who served as an assistant coach for the US U-19 national team that won gold at the 2002 World Championships Qualifying Tournament in Brazil, left her standout guard with a few pointers about the international experience. Among other things, Stone encouraged Anderson — who had never traveled farther than Hawaii — to keep a diary while overseas. The coach’s words would soon prove prophetic.
“Jolene will have stories for all of us when she returns, and hopefully a gold medal hanging around her neck as well,” Stone said.
Stone still remembers her own medal ceremony in Brazil, an experience that she now shares with her star guard.
“When you stand on the medal stand…and you watch the flag go up and they do the national anthem, it is an amazing feeling,” Stone said. “It’s not the Olympics, it’s the U-19 national championships, but there’s nothing that feels like that. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”
Prior to the tournament, Stone explained that a strong showing in Tunisia could serve as the gateway to a future tryout for the Olympic team. After seeing action in all eight games and averaging 4.9 points per contest in the world championship tournament, Anderson may have taken her first strides toward representing her country in the Olympic Games.
“Once your foot’s in the door, and Jolene can do what she can do — abide by the rules, toe the line, compete, battle — they remember that,” Stone said. “You want to wear those colors to the best of your abilities, go perform well this summer, be invited again next summer…There’s no guarantees with anything in life, but she’s put herself in a tremendous situation at this point.”