USA U17 Men’s Newcomers Savor First USA Basketball Experience
Colorado Springs, Colorado
With only one more practice session left to go, the 2014 USA Basketball Men’s U17 World Championship training camp participants are quickly approaching the moment they have all been waiting for since they set foot inside the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, two days ago.
Today, after the scheduled morning practice, the first roster cut will take place and team finalists will be announced. The selected few will continue training and remain in contention for one of the 12 roster spots in the 2014 USA Men’s U17 World Championship Team that will travel to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to compete in the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship for Men on August 8-16.
The rest, however, will be going back home.
Hoping to hear their name being called out and not be part of the latter group will be first-time USA Basketball participants, Dennis Smith Jr. (Trinity Christian School/Fayetteville, N.C.) and Caleb Swanigan (Homestead H.S./Fort Wayne, Ind.)
Unlike their counterparts, many of whom have played together during training camps before on multiple occasions, Smith and Swanigan are the only two guys at this year’s camp without any sort of previous USA Basketball experience.
Though this could be seen as a disadvantage, Smith and Swanigan have chosen instead to approach this opportunity just like if it were anything else, with passion, determination and competitiveness.
“This experience has been so much fun; it’s highly competitive,” shared Swanigan about his first encounter with the USA Basketball experience. “You have to get out every day and get on every play; there are no days off. You’re not the main guy here, everyone is fighting for the same position; you just have to fight.”
“The top guys in the country are here; everyone is in your age group and you’re all competing,” Swanigan continued.
Smith agrees with Swanigan when it comes to facing a much higher level of talent, all at once, than the one they perhaps are used to.
“There’s a lot of great guys here and they all play at the level I expected them to.” Smith added. “It’s been great.”
For Swanigan, the tougher match-ups have given him a chance to measure himself against not only the top talent in the nation, but also against himself and see just exactly what he is capable of doing.
“Getting to see all of the best guys on one team and compete against everyone definitely lets you know where you are skill-level wise and where you’re at with the guys in your age group,” he said.
“I definitely have gotten better as a player; just being around guys playing at such a high level, it just brings the best out of you.”
Smith on the other hand, is taking advantage of another perk of participating with USA Basketball: the coaches.
For him, getting the opportunity to be coached by stellar basketball minds, as is the case with five-time USA Basketball gold medalist 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 GMC, Kan.), is an opportunity he is incredibly grateful for.
“The coaches are helping me a lot. They’re telling me things that I wouldn’t learn at a high school level because it’s not as competitive as this. They’re helping me develop and learn different things for a point guard.”
Aware that there is a possibility their names won’t be called out after today’s morning practice, Smith and Swanigan are not fretting, as they know they are working hard and regardless of the outcome, they already feel like winners.
“Just coming out here and putting on a USA jersey makes you want to work hard because it’s an honor to be here,” Smith said. “At the end, that’s the main thing, to represent your country.”
Swanigan agreed, as he believes at the end of the day, this whole experience will be about focusing on the bigger picture.
“It means a lot to have been called here,” Swanigan acknowledged. “Everyone wants to make the team, but not everyone will.
“You can either get better from this or get better - that’s the main thing I have been focused on. There are still a lot of great things you can get from this.”
Hopefully, one of those things will be hearing their names being called out and realizing that maybe this experience is not over yet.