Lady Toppers win CUSA Championship

Western Kentucky women’s basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard encourages her team during Saturday’s 67-56 victory over Southern Miss in the Conference USA Women’s Basketball Tournament championship at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Ala.

As if working a summer for USA Basketball one time wasn’t a high enough honor for Michelle Clark-Heard, imagine her reaction when she was asked to do it again.

It’s a reality the Western Kentucky women’s basketball coach will live once again next week. Heard in June was named an assistant coach for the 2017 USA Basketball Women’s U23 National Team that will compete in the inaugural Four Nations Tournament Aug. 12-15 in Tokyo, Japan.

Heard said in a news conference Wednesday she got chills thinking about working for USA Basketball when she received the phone call. She’ll travel to the United States Olympic Training Facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., for training July 31 through Aug. 4 before the team leaves for Japan on Aug. 7.

“To know I get the chance to do that again and know how to represent your country is so special,” Heard said. “I’m so excited and so humbled. There’s so many coaches out there that would love this opportunity and out of 300 Division-I head coaches, I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Heard will work alongside University of Louisville women’s hoops coach Jeff Walz, who she also worked with in the first stint with USA Basketball for the Pan American Games in 2015.

Heard and Walz share a connection that spans nearly 20 years when the two were assistants under Paul Sanderford at Nebraska, then Heard joined Walz’s staff at Louisville from 2007-12.

Courtney Banghart of Princeton University will be the other assistant coach on staff. Geno Auriemma, the 11-time national champion coach at the University of Connecticut and USA Basketball Women’s National Team coach from 2009-16, will serve as the lead clinician during training camp, leading all sessions besides team practices and games.

The Four Nations Tournament will include the USA, Australia, Canada and Japan in a round-robin format played Aug. 12-15.

“I’m just going to soak up all I can, especially from all the people I’ll be around,” Heard said. “Very fortunate that Jeff and I have worked together, but I’m very fortunate to work with Courtney from Princeton. Being able to work with the top players in the country ... it’s exciting to be chosen (for) something that’s a first time for USA Basketball.”

USA Basketball announced 40 college freshmen, sophomores and juniors who accepted invitations to attend the training camp next week. Hodgenville native Erin Boley, who transferred from Notre Dame to Oregon this offseason, and Owensboro native Rebecca Greenwell (Duke) are the two Kentucky natives with a shot at making the 12-player roster.

Louisville players Asia Durr and Myisha Hines-Allen will also attend training camp.

“I think the most important thing I took for us is just the experience overall, and my goal in my mind is to eventually one day have one of my players go and represent the USA Basketball team,” Heard said. “There’s so many ways to do things, and when you’re around great coaches and you’re around great players (and) the way people teach, I’ve brought back a lot of different things.

“The way USA Basketball is, it’s a phenomenal program and anyone would love to be involved in it. Just the way they do things and how they carry themselves, I think all of those things matter and those are things I brought back here.”{&end}

– Follow sports reporter Elliott Pratt on Twitter @EPrattBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

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