Developmental National Team Mini-Camp Makes Big Impact
By Saturday morning, Sports Center II at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., will be filled up with 48 of the nation's top high school players. Unlike most USA Basketball training camps, however, no cuts will be made and no team will be selected.
Instead, this mini-camp is intended to develop the USA Basketball pipeline for future events, and in it's fifth-straight year, the camp has demonstrated its worth.
Since the inception of the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in 2009 and the FIBA U17 World Championship in 2010, members of the USA Basketball Menís Developmental National Team program have won five consecutive gold medals and compiled a perfect 31-0 record at U16 and U17 championships.
This weekend USA Basketball will gather members of its DNT for four sessions over two days, weeks before the players will start their high school seasons and almost nine months before next summer's 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship.
"You go back five years, and we weren't sure what our success would be, other than to bring kids together," said Don Showalter (Iowa City H.S., Iowa), who has won five gold medals as head coach of the USA Basketball Developmental National Team since 2009. "The mini-camp has really expanded over the years. The players are looking forward to getting back together with each other. The coaches are looking forward to seeing the improvements that have taken place in each of the players. It has been a really good thing from my standpoint as a coach for USA Basketball."
First convened as a way to prepare USA Basketball's youngest teams for competition, the past few years also have seen the inclusion of older players, with the purpose of strengthening the talent pool for the FIBA Americas U18 Championship and the Nike Hoop Summit.
In fact, 34 members of the 2013-14 USA Basketball Menís Developmental National Team (born on or after Jan. 1, 1997) will be preparing for the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship, while 14 players from the high school class of 2014 will train in preparation for the 2014 U18 National Team and Nike Hoop Summit Team.
While the USA has captured the past two FIBA Americas U18 Championship gold medals, it has lost the past two Nike Hoop Summit games to the World Select Team, partly due to less internationally experienced rosters.
"We felt that our Hoop Summit teams have not had the success we want them to, first of all, and secondly they have not had the opportunity to work together, or against each other, until a couple of days before the Hoop Summit," Showalter explained. "We identified some great players who have not been a part of USA Basketball before that we are going to bring in. Not only do they get a chance to get acclimated to what USA Basketball is about, but they'll learn what the Hoop Summit is and those kind of things. I think that will be a great help to our future teams."
The 48 players will get instruction not only from Showalter, but also his 2013-14 USA DNT assistant coaches, L.J. Goolsby (KC Run GMC, Mo.) and Eric Flannery (St. Edwards H.S., Ohio), as well as five court coaches from across the country.
With just four sessions in two days, Showalter and the coaching staff demand focus and hard work each and every session. Not surprinsgly, the participants, who represent some of the best talent in the country, are capable of that, but it has been something else that Showlater has found most surprising -- the camraderie that has developed.
"Our focus in on having the players compete with each other.," Showalter said of the camp. "We don't really use it for a great amount of evaluation, but I think the players use it as an evaluation tool for themselves, to see where they have come from last summer and where they need to get to for next year's compeition. In those four practices, they are going to compete very, very hard against each other.
"Having said that, the players really look forward to coming back to the mini-camp," Showalter continued. "That has been a real pleasant surprise in that we've had numerous players after the mini-camp say that it is a great two days that they really look forward to each year. It's something that has been good for the kids in that they enjoy coming to mini-camp and working out with other players and coaches. Good players look forward to competing against other good players."
Showalter also said he doesn't expect the mix of ages to be an issue for any of the players, afterall, they compete against each other on their high school and summer teams.
"We are going to implement pretty much the same practice schedule with those 14 (class of 2014) players mixed in with our U17s, and I think it is going to be great for both groups," Showalter said. "They are going to get a little different competition, and it's going to be very, very helpful to have a mixture in practice."
It will take nearly a year for Showalter and USA Basketball to reap the rewards of this weekend's camp, but if the past is any indication, its value will be obvious in next summer's results.