BUFORD — For as long as she can remember, Andraya Carter has been showcasing her basketball skills to her community, state and nation. She now gets the chance to show the world.
Carter, who is about to begin her junior year at Buford High, is one of four girls named to Team USA’s 17-and-under 3-on-3 girls team that will participate in the inaugural Youth Olympic Games from Aug. 14-26 in Singapore.
Carter had dreams of making the “big team,” but instead was named to the 3-on-3 team along with Briyona Canti of New Jersey, Kiah Stokes of Iowa and Amber Henson of Florida. The team is coached by Southwest DeKalb High’s Kathy Walton, whose Lady Panthers have won three straight Class AAAA state championships.
“It’s a whole ’nother sport,” Carter said of playing 3-on-3. “It’s a little more nerve wracking because we’re not used to it.”
That anxiety is nothing compared to how she felt prior to the tryouts.
“It was harder last year because I didn’t make it,” she said. “It was a different pressure because I wanted to make it.”
After averaging 19.5 points per game, 6.5 rebounds and 5.2 steals as a sophomore, and verbally committing to play at the University of Tennessee in March, those who have seen Carter play might assume she’d be a shoo-in to make the team. Not so, says one of the top five prospects in the country.
“Other girls have bigger reputations than I do,” said Carter, who was one of three girls from Georgia invited to tryouts. “All the girls there are amazing.”
Her versatility impressed the coaches and she found out in June she made the team. A month later, she still can’t believe it.
“Just seeing USA on all your clothing is a different feeling,” said Carter as she sat in Buford coach Gene Durden’s office, decked in Team USA gear from head to toe. “It feels like you’re representing something other than yourself.”
Durden called the opportunity to wear your country’s colors “the ultimate,” and said selecting Carter was a no-brainer.
“I think she’ll be a good fit because she’s so versatile as a player,” he said. “With the 3-on-3, you have to be able to do many things.”
One of those things, in this tournament, will be getting a shot off in 10 seconds or less. Along with two five-minute halves with no time-outs, and the winner decided by time or 33 points.
“It (the shot clock) was going off all the time at practice,” Carter said. “You get used to it and it makes you quicker.”
A shot clock is just one of the adjustments Carter will make in the international game, as the paint is a trapezoid, the 3-point line is a little further back, and she’ll only have two teammates on the court as opposed to four.
“We still play as a team,” she said. “If anything, playing with only two girls will help me step up my defense.”
That’s hard to imagine, seeing she’s averaged more than five steals a game in her first two years at Buford.
“She gets to experience something to help her grow as a player,” Durden said. “It’s going to be a tremendous growing curve for leadership too.”
Playing against teams she knows little about — “I hear Australia is pretty good, and the Russians are big,” she said — and with teammates she’s only practiced with for a few weeks, Carter’s leadership may lead the team to gold, and help the girls remain focused amid all the distractions of staying in the Olympic Village with hundreds of their peers.
“We just have to focus on basketball,” said Carter, who left Thursday for practice in Massachusetts before flying to Singapore. “We’re representing the USA. We’re not representing a team or a school, we’re representing a country.”
A country with a history of dominating basketball games, specifically ones in international competition. Team USA’s 18-and-under and 17-and-under girls both won gold earlier this year.
“We’re the USA, we win gold,” Carter said. “That’s what is expected.”
The gold will come at a price, since Carter will miss the first month of school to play in the Games.
“With somebody other than Andraya we’d have more concerns,” Durden said. “She’s No. 2 in her class, and her character and accountability for academics is not a concern.”
Nor is her dedication. Carter spoke with her principal and teachers prior to leaving and made arrangements for them to send her lessons and homework while she’s absent.
“Everyone has been accepting,” she said. “They all know I’m gonna put in the work.”
And when she gets back, they’ll be reminded of how hard work pays off every time she takes the court for the two-time defending state champion Lady Wolves. Carter, who wore No. 3 for two years, will wear No. 4 this year, the number she’ll wear for the next month on Team USA.
“Just having my Olympic number will be the best,” she said.