After months of grueling two-a-days, win-or-go-home pressure and facing the challenge of playing overseas with new teammates, Duke guards Tricia Liston and Alexis Jones came away from their respective U.S. teams atop the podium.
Jones played in the FIBA U19 World Championship team while Liston represented the United States in the World University Games, with both playing on teams that were given less than two months to prepare for international play.
“After three days of two-a-days we finally started clicking a little bit better,” Liston said. “But it probably wasn’t until we left training camp and had a full week of practice and scrimmages that we really started to come together.”
During the Games, Liston averaged 8.2 points per contest and led the team with a 42.9 shooting percentage from behind the arc, something she has become well-known for in her time at Duke. Liston currently boasts an impressive 44.8 career shooting percentage from downtown, making her a lethal weapon for the Blue Devils. She has also managed to work on attacking the basket more, allowing her more space on the floor.
Liston has improved in nearly every offensive category each of her three years at Duke, which makes it frustrating when the Blue Devils constantly get denied a trip to the Final Four. After seeing her Duke team lose in the Elite Eight three years in a row, getting to win it all in Russia was a very rewarding experience for Liston.
“It was a proud moment, it was happy, it was everything,” Liston said. “My parents were there too, so I got to share it with them. It was just really exciting. It was a once-in-a-lifetime feeling.”
In the 2012 Olympics, the United States defeated France in the gold medal game. Jones’ USA U19 World Championship Team followed suit, holding the French team to eight points in the second half and taking home the gold. Jones managed to pour in nine points, three assists and three steals en route to the championship. For the tournament, she averaged similar numbers, with 10 points, 4.3 assists and 1.7 steals, ranking fourth overall in assists. She also managed to start all nine contests the team played in the tournament.
As if the pressure of playing at the international level was not enough, the coaching staff for both teams gave their players a very clear message from the beginning—it was gold medal or bust.
“They had it set in our minds that the USA team doesn’t lose,” Liston said. “Gold medals, all day. Even at try-outs they mentioned it. They said ‘We expect gold, nothing less.’”
Although the mentality was tough, taking the podium was a moment neither player will forget anytime soon. Jones is more or less a veteran of the podium, with this medal being her third over the short span of her career. Stepping atop the podium had added significance for Liston, who had never played for USA Basketball before the World University Games.
“I’ve only seen [the medal ceremony] on TV, with Olympics,” Liston said. “It was crazy. You stand up on the podium and everyone’s standing and cheering. They made a huge performance out of it.”
Both players were able to walk away from the experience with more than a gold medal. Liston, one of five seniors returning to the Blue Devils, used the time to surround herself with fellow leaders of top-tier programs and observe how different leadership tactics were successful outside of Duke.
“From conversations with other people and the leaders on their team, you can kind of see it from a different perspective,” Liston said. “See how they do things, how you do things and maybe see how you can do things better.”
Jones also used the time to hone in on her leadership skills. After being a quiet presence on the court this past season in terms of leadership, being vocal was one of the largest facets of her game she used the Worlds to develop. She also used the summer as a chance to slow down the game for herself, as she was fresh off her first season of college basketball.
“This year, I’m trying to be more vocal on the court and learn from our seniors that are there this year,” Jones said. “I’m getting better at seeing the floor really well and getting my teammates open by giving them better passes rather than just throwing the ball away.”
With five returning seniors and the second-ranked recruiting class in the nation, both Jones and Liston are confident they can overcome their three-year losing streak in the Elite Eight and finally move on to the Final Four.
“I expect a lot of us,” Jones said. “The seniors have been here for three years, and it’s been a rough three years. So I expect to have a great season with them, good team bonding, and I can see us being in the Final Four this year.”