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USA - Massengale dreams of Final Four return with Lady Vols
KNOXVILLE (FIBA U19 World Championship for Women) - The last couple of years have been a steep learning curve for USA point guard Ariel Massengale.
After helping her country successfully defend its FIBA U19 World Championship for Women crown in Chile - and in the process being named to the All-Tournament Team - in the summer of 2011, she headed for Knoxville to begin her college career at the University of Tennessee. And, it's been full of peaks and troughs for the player, a pattern which shows no sign of dissipating.
Massengale and the Lady Vols had to endure the disappointment of missing out on an expected place at Final Four last month after being hunted down by Louisville.
But, the teenager is already looking on the positive side and plans to make amends as she enters the second half of her college basketball life.
"Over the next couple years, I plan to lead the University of Tennessee to another Final Four," she insisted.
"I want to continue to improve my leadership skills, and all other aspects of my game. I plan on improving my one-on-one skills, and my mid-range game.
"I want to continue to work hard so that I can be the best I can be. I want to leave a legacy on the programme."
It's been tough at times for Massengale, not only dealing with the adjustment all newcomers have to make both on and off the court, but also coping with injury problems too.
"It is the worst feeling not being able to be on the court with your team-mates," she explained.
"In my freshman year, I got a concussion either the first or second day of pre-season. I was so eager and excited to start my career and was devastated when I got hurt.
"The transition to college was a struggle during my freshman year - I had never experienced being so homesick before in my life."
But, it's typical of the outlook which Massengale has, that such challenges pale into significance when she considers the benefits of her two years in Knoxville so far.
"Being on the sidelines is never fun, but you can always learn something from it. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason," she offered.
"I stayed in constant communication with my coaching staff to ensure that I stayed up-to-date on everything so that when I could return to the court, no one knew that I had been out.
"Also, I had great team-mates that kept me encouraged.
"Thankfully, none of my injuries were season-ending, and I knew that it would only be a couple weeks until I would be back on the court with my teammates.
"I have learned so much playing under Coach Pat Summitt and Holly Warlick," continued the playmaker.
"They have taught me a lot about basketball, but have also played a huge role in who I am as a human being.
"The past two years have gone by so fast; playing basketball at the highest level possible, has been a blessing and a great opportunity.
"Besides, I have had great upperclassmen around me, who have taken me under their wing and showed me the way of life while being a Lady Vol.
"I am proud at the way my game has progressed."
During her first year on campus, she played with Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson, who have since played in the WNBA and had outstanding seasons in Europe.
"Being a point guard and having players like Shekinna and Glory make life so much easier," Massengale recalled.
"It's not every day that you play with a scorer such as Shekinna, or a pure athlete in Glory Johnson. They were also great team-mates and senior leaders.
"Being that Shekinna played the point during her career, she played a huge role in preparing me for what it was like to be a point guard under Pat Summitt.
"She told me the do's and dont's and always kept my spirits high.
"It was an honour watching them in the WNBA this past summer and just being able to say that I know and played with them."
However, it's a different WNBA star and former Lady Vol who Massengale truly looks up to.
"Tamika Catchings is real," she proclaimed.
"She has accomplished everything it is that I wish to accomplish one day. She's a prime example of what it means to be a Lady Vol and is down to earth, easy to talk too and is always willing to share her experiences and what she has learned.
"She's a player who has constantly worked on her game and never ceases to amaze me. She does it all on both ends of the floor. She is in incredible shape and the true definition of a winner.
"There is nothing that you can't like about Tamika Catchings!"
As for her time in Puerto Montt, even two years on, Massengale is still just as quick to praise her team-mates for the individual recognition she was given.
"The trip was amazing. Being a part of the All-Tournament Team was definitely a surprise to me. I had no idea that I was even being considered for that accomplishment," she said.
"I would not have been able to do it without the help of my team-mates and coaching staff. We all had great relationships, we pushed each other to be the best and there was an unbelievable amount of trust between both parties.
"Going to Chile was a great experience, and being a part of the FIBA World Championship and winning gold is something that I will cherish forever."