Sky guard Kahleah Copper was leaving practice with the Purdue Northwest women’s basketball team late last month when she realized she had a missed call from a number she didn’t recognize.
At first, she didn’t think anything of it. The person left a voicemail mentioning USA Basketball, and Copper hadn’t attended a Team USA camp in five years.
But when she returned the call, Copper learned that she was one of 19 players invited to attend a four-day minicamp at the University of South Carolina earlier this month.
“It was pretty special because . . . this is big time,” said Copper, who notably was the only invitee who wasn’t already in the national team’s player pool.
Copper played her way back onto USA Basketball coach Dawn Staley’s radar last season with a breakout performance and run at the WNBA’s Most Improved Player award, with her increased minutes allowing for a boost in production.
In her fifth WNBA season, Copper posted career highs in points (14.8), rebounds (5.5) and assists (2.1) as a starter. She also shot 49.6% from the field and 34.4% from three-point range.
Copper’s success last season didn’t come as a surprise to coach James Wade.
“If there’s anybody who expected [this], it was Kah and myself,” Wade said during the season. “We felt that people were sleeping on her a little bit.”
Copper said it was rewarding that USA Basketball recognized her hard work and improvements over the last few years.
“It just feels good because you know you work so hard and you don’t see results immediately or you don’t get what you want,” Copper said. “It’s like, ‘I worked hard, I came out this season, I had a great season, and I still don’t get most improved player.’ It wasn’t heartbreaking for me, but I definitely wanted it.
“And then, not to go overseas and to try something new with coaching, and then to one day get the call about coming to USA trials, I mean, it felt very good. I felt as if I deserved it.”
Copper’s skill set, especially her tenacious defense, meshes well with Team USA, which could set her apart from the competition.
“It was good for me just to be able to compete again,” she said, reflecting on the camp that ran Feb. 4 through 7. “I haven’t really competed [this offseason]. I’ve played some pickup games but to play with the best at what I do is always good for me.”
The women’s national team player pool is loaded with talent, so Copper might be a long shot to make the Olympic squad this time around. The experience, though, has motivated her to continue to push herself.
“I for sure have a lot more to get better at, but to get recognized as one of the best players, it’s humbling [and] it for sure is rewarding,” Copper said. “But it just makes you want to work so much harder when you know you have so much more to accomplish and to give to the game.
“So yeah, it feels good, but for me, I’m thinking like, ‘Damn, I’ve got so much more to give. If y’all think I’m good now just let me keep working at it and let’s see where I am in the next few years.’ ”