Grasping the gold medal and hugging her teammates, Madison Hayes was overcome with joy after Team USA won the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup.
The United States teenagers left no doubt on the basketball court by outscoring their competition 137-66 while winning all seven 3-on-3 games over a five-day stretch in Ulaanbaataar, Mongolia.
As fireworks blasted into the night sky in Ulaanbaataar after the awards ceremony Friday, four of America's top basketball talents celebrated with family members and coach Kara Lawson.
"To win the gold medal for our country is so surreal," said Hayes, an upcoming senior star at East Hamilton. "I never thought I would be in Mongolia playing 3x3 for Team USA.
"I was amazed to see how many people we inspired while here. One girl even gave me a picture of me and her. To see how much we meant to a lot of people even across the world really pushed me and my teammates."
Hayes' prowess on the offensive glass helped her score two of the final three baskets in a 19-13 win over New Zealand in the gold medal game. The reigning Tennessee Class AAA Miss Basketball scored five points and added seven rebounds and a steal in the finale.
Just hours before in a semifinal against France, she made a ferocious block on a layup attempt. The 5-foot-11 Hayes broke past a screen at the top right of the arc and kept up with the attacker to reject the left-handed shot. The crowd erupted and loved the glaring stare that Hayes added to the play.
"That moment I blocked the shot was one where I had to let them know I was here and we weren't coming here just to play. We were here to win," she said. "Playing for your country is one of the best feelings anyone could ever experience."
Hailey Van Lith scored eight points in the gold medal game and was selected the tournament's most valuable player. The 5-7 guard from Wenatchee, Washington, is ranked eighth among women's college prospects for the class of 2020.
Van Lith was joined by 6-2 Mississippi State signee Rickea Jackson from Detroit on the all-tournament team.
The other American was Olivia Cochran, who blocked two shots in the title game. The 6-1 rising senior at Carver High School in Atlanta was a teammate of Hayes on the 2019 USA Basketball 3x3 U18 national championship team this April in Colorado.
From practicing at the Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs to playing together in Asia, the dynamic group clicked to become world champions.
"It was special to play with teammates who have great abilities," said Hayes, who in 2014 and 2015 became the first two-time MLB Pitch, Hit & Run girls' national champion. "We each brought a unique aspect to the game and knew we had to bring our A game throughout."
The four secured the fourth Team USA women's U18 3-on-3 World Cup gold medal with wins over Russia (19-8), Poland (21-10), Hungary (21-3), France (21-11) and Indonesia (16-10) and two over New Zealand (20-11 first game).
The U.S. beat Turkey for the men's gold medal while also going 7-0 with 137 points scored. It was the first time the country has won both gold medals at the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup.
At Tokyo in 2020, 3-on-3 basketball will make its official Olympics debut.
"This is different than your typical basketball game, but I like it," Hayes said about the quick-tempo version that uses half the court. "Having the opportunity to play for Coach Lawson and my country is one of the greatest feelings."
Hayes plans to make her collegiate announcement before her senior basketball season begins. She averaged 25.2 points, 12.2 rebounds, four steals, 3.6 assists and 3.1 blocks a game as a junior for East Hamilton.
Contact Patrick MacCoon at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.