When Kylee Watson returns to high school in September, she will be able to tell admiring classmates how her summer vacation included more than a trip to Argentina.
Watson, who will be a sophomore at Mainland Regional High School, played on the USA Basketball Women’s U16 national team that won the gold medal in the FIBA Americas Championship two weeks ago in Buenos Aires.
“The whole experience was just so incredible, meeting all the girls and getting to know everyone and getting to compete on the international level was just so amazing,” Watson said.
“It was something I never thought I'd be doing, but also playing with some of the best players in the country was so incredible.”
Watson, who averaged 16 points and nine rebounds a game for the Mustangs last season, was the only New Jersey player invited to try out for the USA U16 National Team.
The national team held tryouts in late May at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Only 35 players - from 20 different states - were invited.
The finalists were selected on May 29 and remained in Colorado Springs for training camp. The 12-member roster was announced before the team’s departure for Argentina on June 4.
“It's definitely a dream come true, something I never thought I'd be taking part of being in Argentina,” Watson said. “First of all, just to try out and represent our country was incredible in itself, but just to be able to go to Argentina and meet all my teammates and then play in that last game and to win the gold medal was absolutely incredible.”
The 6-foot-3 Watson, who plays power forward, averaged 5.2 points and 2.8 rebounds as USA rolled to five wins by an average of almost 54 points a game, including a 91-46 thumping of Canada in the gold medal victory.
“I think I expanded my range and my versatility just from being down there and learning different plays, different ways to get open and all the little things,” Watson said.
“But it just wasn't basketball. Off the court and getting to know all the girls from different parts of the country and seeing that we all have one thing in common and it is our love for basketball and kind of connecting with them.”
Included with the gold medal is an automatic berth in the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup. Watson certainly wants to continue to play on the national team.
“It definitely was a good taste to what it's like,” Watson said.
Her exciting and envious summer vacation will also include playing for the Philadelphia Belles on the AAU circuit.
“I will be going to Indiana and Chicago for AAU games,” said Watson, acknowledging that July is a heavy recruiting month in college basketball.
Watson had already received Division I scholarship offers while playing for Belhaven Middle School in Linwood. She has taken some unofficial visits.
“I'm not sure where I want to go, but I'm getting a feel of what I like and what I don't like and all that stuff so I feel in the future it will help me narrow it down,” Watson said.
“Overall I'm just trying to enjoy it, I guess.”
Last year, everyone in the Cape Atlantic League already knew who Watson was, but now she will be one of the top sophomores in the country and one of the best players in the state.
“I don't call it pressure, if anything I put the pressure on myself to go out there and represent myself and show people why I made this team,” Watson said.
Last season, Watson helped Mainland finish 22-7 and advanced to the South Jersey Group 3 championship.
“We play really well together and that's something I'm looking forward to,” Watson said.
Watson didn’t know what to look forward to when she returned home with the gold medal. But she was greeted at Linwood City Hall by family and friends and was treated to a parade around town in a convertible.
“It definitely wasn't something I was expecting at all, the celebration when I got home,” Watson said. “But it definitely was super nice as well as the support I got when I was there from my friends in the entire community.”
Watson’s mom played basketball at the University of Delaware and her dad played football at Maryland and Rowan before playing in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks. Her mother, Courtney, and her father were star athletes at Mainland as well.
Courtney is an assistant girls’ basketball coach for the Mustangs and Tim is the head football coach at Cedar Creek.
“It was super comforting when I was out there and also when I got home,” said Watson, who has two brothers - Hunter, 11, and Ryan, 5, about the support she received. “I'm super grateful for it all.
“It was a surreal experience.”