CN player earns chance to play for national basketball program

Mary Ashley Groot, a sophomore at Cardinal Newman School in Columbia, will compete for a spot on the U-16 National Team. (Provided)

COLUMBIA—Mary Ashley Groot has her head in the game, and basketball scouts are taking notice.

The 16-year-old standout from Cardinal Newman School got a dream opportunity recently when she was invited to try out for a spot on the U.S. National Team for U-16 girls.

“Playing for a USA team has always been a dream of mine ever since I started playing basketball in fifth grade,” Mary Ashley said in a recent interview.

The sophomore phenom is one of only 20 players nationwide invited by the USA Basketball Women’s Developmental National Team Committee to compete for a spot on the 12-player 2021 U16 National Team. Tryouts are scheduled for June 3-6 at a location still to be determined. If she is selected for the team, Mary Ashley will be on the court for the 2021 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, scheduled for June 20-27 in Santiago, Chile.

“I’ve idealized the national program and the Olympics all throughout my career and just have been working to get better and better to have this chance,” she said. “Being here at Cardinal Newman with all of its great players and with Coach Asia Dozier has really helped give me that extra push so Team USA would notice me.”

Coach Dozier was a two-time captain on the University of South Carolina’s women’s team. She was part of the winningest senior class in program history, helping her team amass a 121-18 four-year record.

Mary Ashley said she has been putting in extra practice and conditioning time since she received the invitation, working out two or three times a day for up to two hours each time.

“With only a limited number of girls at the tryout, everybody is going to be skilled, so I’m really focusing in on conditioning and making sure my skills are fundamentally sound,” she said. “We’re working on making sure that my shot-making, ball handling and decision-making are as good as they can possibly be.”

During the past season, Mary Ashley helped lead her school team to its third straight SCISA State Championship, and she averaged 14 points and 12 rebounds a game.

Mary Ashley is currently one of the top players in the country from the class of 2023, and already has received more than 20 offers from Division I schools, including Clemson, Miami, Arizona and Michigan.

Mary Ashley’s mom and dad, Gary and Ashley Stevenson, couldn’t be more proud of their daughter. Mrs. Stevenson said parents won’t be allowed to attend tryouts because of COVID-19 restrictions, so they will be cheering her on from afar.

“We couldn’t be more excited for her because this has been a lifelong dream for her,” Mrs. Stevenson said. “We always wanted her to have a chance to play for a USA team but just didn’t realize it would happen so early for her at age 16!”