USA Basketball Veterans Return for Another Shot at Gold
Colorado Springs, Colorado
It’s hard to refer to 18-year-olds as veterans, but the trio of Stanley Johnson, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow are just that. They are the most internationally experienced athletes among the nation’s 24 top 18-and-unders who are taking part in the 2014 USA Basketball Men’s U18 National Team training camp, which tipped-off on June 10 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Johnson and Jones earned a gold medal at the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship and all three teamed up to claim gold at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship. Coached by University of Florida’s Billy Donovan, who is coaching this year’s U18 squad, Winslow returned last summer to clinch his second gold medal, this time in the2013 FIBA U19 World Championship.
“I’m looking forward to playing with Justise and Stanley again,” said Jones, who will play alongside Winslow at Duke University in the fall. “I played with them in the all-star games and stuff like that, but this is a little bit different than an all-star game, so I’m excited to get back on the same team with them.”
Having first trained with USA Basketball 3 ½ years ago at the 2010 USA Developmental National Team’s October mini-camp, the three gold medalists are happy to be back at the USOTC in hopes of making the 2014 USA U18 National Team.
“I’m definitely very comfortable out here,” stated Jones. “I’m very excited to be back. I haven’t been here for a few months, so it’s exciting to come back.”
This time around, however, they’re older and wiser. Instead of looking up to the older players, they are the older players.
“The first couple of times I was one of the younger guys playing alongside guys I kind of looked up to,” said Winslow, a two-time Gatorade Texas Boys Basketball Player of the Year from Houston’s St. John’s School. “But, with this group, I have the experience. I’ve been on a team twice, and now I’m one of the older guys. This year I’m going to have to be more of a leader. Last year I played with more college guys, and I wouldn’t say I followed them, but I let them mentor me and guide me along the way. This time the role is reversed. I’m going to have to be more of a leader and show some of the young guys how to do things, what to do, when’s the right time to do certain stuff.”
Only one other athlete -- University of Texas-bound Myles Turner-- previously has donned the red, white and blue. He, along with Johnson, Jones and Winslow, aided the 2014 USA Junior National Select Team to an 84-73 victory over the World Select Team in the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit.
Since they are the most experienced, Winslow’s USA teammates share his belief that they need to take on a leadership role this summer and show that playing for USA Basketball is much more than taking part in a basketball game.
“I’m kind of like a veteran now, so I know what to expect,” added Johnson, who won four-straight California Interscholastic Federation titles playing for Mater Dei High School and will compete for the University of Arizona this year. “I know what’s going to be asked of me. I’m one of the guys who has been through a lot of USA Basketball, so I can be looked at as a leader to start off with. I’m excited to be playing under coach Donovan and playing on my first men’s team, the under 18s. I’m excited about being out here and competing.”
Because they know what it means to represent your country, win gold medals and hear the national anthem being played as the stars and stripes are raised, the three All-Americans want to make sure everyone in Colorado Springs knows that this is not your average basketball camp. Out of the 24, only 12 will emerge to compete for gold in the 2014 FIBA Americas U18 Championship, held June 20-24 and hosted by USA Basketball at the USOTC.
“It starts with practice,” stated Johnson. “When you put that USA across your chest, you’re playing for your country. All that matters is winning games. It doesn’t matter if you score 100 points or 40, or get 20 rebounds or whatever. That’s all out the door at this point in time. There have been a lot of great players who have played for USA Basketball and don’t have the numbers they have in the NBA, but they’re still all-star players and they’re still super stars. So, as long as you come out here and try to win and do your best, you’ll be fine. Play a team game first.”
Jones also feels that he can lead by example this week.
“For myself it’s going to be different because I’m one of the upperclassman, I’m one of the older guys,” said Jones, who played for Apple Valley High School (Minn.) and was a three-time Gatorade Minnesota Boys Basketball Player of the Year. “That’s a little different for me, because I’m used to being the younger guy. I just have to be a leader out there, lead not only by example but vocally as well.
“I’d say to always be early, be focused, show the coaches and the staff of USA Basketball that this means something to you; you’re not just taking it for granted,” Jones added regarding advice he would give to the newcomers. “I think (the coaches) notice that and appreciate that.”
“You have to pay attention to details,” added Winslow. “College coaches don’t have any time to waste. They’re always on a busy schedule, so just paying attention to details, always be ready, be ready for whatever he throws at you.”
Playing for USA Basketball has taken Johnson and Jones to Cancun, Mexico, in 2011; all three to Las Palmas, Canary Islands, and Kaunas, Lithuania, in 2012; and Winslow to Prague, Czech Republic. The international travel not only helped each of them grow their game,
“The trip to Lithuania and Spain (with the 2012 USA U17 World Championship Team) was the one that really changed me, because I was gone so long from my parents,” said Johnson. “My parents didn’t make the full trip there. They only went to a couple things. So, I had my own money. I had to buy my own food and manage myself a little bit. Then, playing against professional basketball players, Dante (Exum) is going to be in the NBA Draft soon. So, it’s like you have to grow up out there a little bit. So, coming in here with guys I’ve already grown up with and we’ve already had past experiences is going to make it easier for me to get comfortable here. The faster you get comfortable, the easier it’ll be.”
When all is said and done, representing their country is something these three never will take for granted, never forget and always will talk about with pride.
“It means a lot,” Jones said. “It means a lot to play for something bigger than yourself or your state. It’s your whole nation, so that means a lot to myself and all of the other guys as well. It’s an incredible honor and you have to play with a lot of pride.”
“You’re representing your country,” added Winslow. “Putting yourself in the back seat, trying to serve your country and come out number one for your country and not yourself, not for your high school team or your AAU team, but really for a bigger cause.”
One thing’s for sure, if all three are named to the 2014 USA Basketball U18 National Team, the U.S. squad will have no shortage of veteran leadership.