Talented Group Looking For Their Shot At U17 Gold
Only two athletes of the 32 participating in this year’s 2014 USA Basketball Men’s U17 World Championship Team training camp have no previous USA Basketball experience. The rest have either participated in a mini-camp, a training camp in another age category, or won a gold medal representing the USA internationally.
This group features guys that came to the 2013 USA Basketball Men’s U16 National Team training camp last summer and were cut, came close, or made the team and earned a gold medal after the USA finished with an 5-0 record at the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship held in Maldonado, Uruguay, June 11-15.
Amir Coffey (Hopkins H.S./Minneapolis, Minn.), Byant Crawford (Gonzaga College H.S./Silver Spring, Md.) and Malik Newman (Callaway H.S./Jackson, Mo.) are among some of the returning faces that underwent their first session of practice last night and will continue with three more during the next two days, hoping to make the cut of finalists which will get them one step closer to being named to the 12-member roster that will represent the United States at the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship for Men in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on August 8-16.
Amir Coffey has been here before, but his shot to wear that USA jersey internationally is yet to come. Coffey however, has one solid motivating factor that encourages him to keep on pursuing this dream, his sister Nia.
Nia Coffey was a 2013 USA Basketball Women’s U19 World Championship Team member who helped the USA squad capture the gold medal after finishing with a perfect 9-0 record and outscoring opponents by a whopping 43 points per game last summer.
Seeing this shiny piece of hardwear around his sister’s neck is all that Coffey needs to push harder and play better, especially because, as in Nia’s case, getting the reward means you might have to be prepared to fail along the way.
“It pushes me a lot (to see his sister win a gold medal) because the first two times that she came here she didn’t make it,” he admitted.
“It’s the same with me, so hopefully I can make the team, but if I can’t it will be a good experience, regardless.”
Amir says Nia only shares one piece of advice with him when it comes to competing for a spot in a USA Basketball roster, “You know how to play. Just go at it hard and have fun with it.”
Because big sisters know best, Amir seems to be taking this in stride, as his big smile following yesterday’s first practice session seemed to prove he is doing just that.
“I am very excited to be here,” Amir said. “The skills work was pretty good and we had three games of scrimmages. They played me out of position but I just tried to have fun with it.”
Oh So Close
For Crawford, the road to this year’s training camp holds a slight bittersweet note.
Last summer, he participated in the U16 trials and made the roster cut to participate a few more days with the finalists before the official team was named. However, a torn meniscus sidelined him from further competition and he was forced to withdraw from training.
The blow left a feeling of unfinished business that Crawford is determined to make up this time around, as well as a discouraging sensation that he does not wish to feel ever again.
“I’m very excited to be back. I felt like it was cut short for me last summer, so I’m happy to be back here and be with the guys,” he said. “Last year, seeing all of those guys putting all of their pictures on Instagram with their gold medals and the trophy, it was motivating. I want to be a part of that this year.”
During the first practice last night, Crawford’s abilities were on display and his confidence was shining through. The resolve on his playing style was also obvious.
“I felt like the majority of us pushed through the fatigue tonight and kept playing; even while getting adjusted to the altitude, he continued. “I just have to keep playing hard and make it all the way.”
Unlike Coffey and Crawford, Newman was not only a member of the USA Basketball Men’s U16 National Team that traveled to Uruguay and captured the gold medal last summer, but he also earned tournament MVP honors, averaging 16.2 ppg. and notching a team-high 14 steals.
Newman hasn’t only been to the top of the podium, but he has excelled personally, making him a leader among this year’s group.
“It’s great to be back,” said Newman of being back the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “Everyone has gotten better; everyone is still competing out there and trying to get that USA jersey on. Just to be here is a lot of fun.”
As one of the few representatives with international USA Basketball experience, Newman has tried to excel by approaching practice sessions with a mutual understanding between the returning coaching staff from last year’s gold-medal winning team, led by head coach Don Showalter (Iowa City H.S., Iowa) and assistant coaches Eric Flannery (St. Edward H.S., Ohio) and L.J. Goolsby (KC Run DMC, Kan.), and his own expectations.
“I think I’m more comfortable because I know what to expect from them and I know what they expect from me. It gives me a little more confidence playing,” Newman said of knowing the coaching staff.
Newman is hoping that this year he can make the team again and earn another shot at gold.
“It’s always an honor to represent your country,” he said. “I am working hard to get that opportunity again.”
With three more practice sessions to go before finalists are announced, all 32 hopefuls are vying for one of those 12 roster spots that will make the trip to Dubai and play to keep the USA golden tradition alive, following on the footsteps of the 2010 and 2012 teams, both gold medalists themselves.