O’Fallon High School sophomore Izzy Akoro’s progress as a basketball player has been delayed somewhat by nagging knee injuries dating back to her seventh grade season.
But after spending months training, Akoro is ready to challenge herself against the best under-16 players in the nation.
Akoro, a 6-foot-1 guard/forward, has been invited to the tryouts for the USA Basketball Women’s U16 National Team from May 25-29 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
A total of 150 of the top players in the nation were selected to compete in the tryouts with the top 12 making the team that will compete in the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship from June 7-11 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“I’m excited, but I’m also a little nervous,” Akoro said. “In high school and around here, there are several good players whereas at the U16 trials. Every player is really good. My sister (Celeste) tried to make the (U16) team twice, and I had the opportunity to come out and watch her both times. It’s a great honor to be invited to compete, and for me, it is also a real blessing. I know I have to be at my best, but I feel like I have a chance if I go and play well.”
Akoro is one of two players from the metro-east invited to the tryouts. Belleville East sophomore Kaylah Rainey will also compete.
Akoro said she has been working out with Pure Sweat Basketball in Belleville; her dad, Ian Akoro; and her sister, Celeste Akoro, a 6-3 forward who will play college basketball at Virginia Tech beginning in August.
“Celeste being at the trials twice has been a big help because she has told me what to expect,” Akoro said. “I feel like I’m a good shooter, and I can step out and make the 3-point shot. But I can also handle the basketball well enough to take it to the basket.
“I know I’ve got to get a lot stronger, and I have been in the weight room. I also need to improve defense. Getting to play against players at this level will only make me better. Like I said, I think I’ve got a chance to make the team, but the experience of being there will also help me in the future.”
Akoro plays AAU basketball with the Missouri Phenom where she is a teammate of Chamya Darough, who played last year at Belleville West. Akoro played on the O’Fallon junior varsity team during the 2016-17 season and led the Panthers in scoring, rebounds and blocked shots.
She’s as healthy now as she has been in a long time and says she is ready to take her game to the next level.
“I know I have to become more aggressive on the offensive end of the court,” Akoro said. “It was hard to come back from the injuries I’ve had from both a physical and mental point of view. Mentally, it was tough to take the ball inside because of the contact. I was a little hesitant about getting hit and seeing if my knee would be alright.”
“But after being able to get through the high school season, I’m much better and a lot healthier and more confident.”