USA U16 Men Roll to Gold, Continue to Build Legacy
As the previous two USA Men’s U16 National Teams have done, the 2013 USA Basketball Men’s U16 National Team rolled to an unblemished 5-0 slate en route to the FIBA Americas U16 Championship gold medal. At the third installment of the biennial tournament, the U.S. team of 16-and-unders scorched all comers by a record-setting 53.4-point margin of victory June 11-15 in Maldonado, Uruguay.
USA Basketball’s two prior U16 National Teams enjoyed great success as both teams earned the gold medal with unblemished 5-0 marks.
Knowing the previous USA teams’ history and wanting to not only build upon their legacy, but also create their own, the 2013 squad headed to Uruguay with two goals in mind: capture gold and not lose a game in the process.
The squad, which trained in Colorado Springs, Colo., flew through Houston, then to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and finally landed in Montevideo, Uruguay about 24 hours later. Then came an hour-and-a-half bus ride to the Golden Beach Hotel in the resort town of Punta Del Este. Being away from home, away from family and friends and everything familiar didn’t faze the young Americans. They spent their free time hanging out in each other’s rooms, watching the NBA Finals, loading images onto Instagram and getting to know one another better.
By the time the tournament tipped-off on June 11, the 12 members of the USA squad had begun to form a bond off the court that will likely last a lifetime. And it was evident that the bond of brotherhood extended onto the court.
Running to a 10-0 lead against an undersized Mexican squad, the U.S. had 29 assists on 56 field goals en route to a 130-31 victory to open the tournament. The 130 points was the most any USA team had scored in a U16 championship and tied Argentina’s 130-point output in 2011 for the overall tournament high-water mark.
Next up was South American rival Argentina, but a 16-0 USA run to open the game quickly established no doubt as to which team was stronger as the U.S. earned the 96-72 win. Still, it was a hard-fought victory that saw a combined 57 fouls whistled – 24 on the U.S. and 33 on the Argentina squad – there were 63 free throws attempted over the 40-minute game, which hindered both teams’ ability to get into a flow.
One of the unfortunate outcomes of the physical game was the loss of Harry Giles (Wesleyan Christian Academy / Winston-Salem, N.C.) early in the contest, who suffered a left knee sprain and was sidelined for the remainder of the tournament.
Meeting up against winless Bahamas in its third game, the red, white and blue quickly established dominance and rolled to a 59-28 halftime lead before easing in for the 121-52 win.
As the top team out of Group A, the U.S. not only headed into the medal semifinals, it earned a berth to the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship in the process.
“We’re really happy to qualify, obviously,” said USA U16 and Iowa City High School (Iowa) head coach Don Showalter following the preliminary round. “Our goal here, like I told the kids in the locker room, this group is really a good group, but the other two U16 teams have done one thing that this group hasn’t done and that’s win a gold medal. So, until this group does that, we can’t even compare to the other two previous U16 teams.”
As impressive as the USA team was on the court – wowing the crowd with no-look passes, high-flying dunks, steals leading to fast-break buckets and posting a three-game scoring average of 115.7 points a contest – it was equally impressive off the court.
As the tournament wore on and word of the team’s acrobatics spread throughout town, more and more fans showed up to watch the highlight show, cheering on every dunk as if it were the No. 1 highlight on ESPN’s Top 10 Plays of the Day. They also gathered outside the arena and mobbed the team on its way out, asking for autographs, photos, anything that would remind them of this team well into the future.
Each player complied with a healthy smile spreading from ear to ear.
But, even with a growing fan base, the U.S. knew there was work to be done in order to keep the golden streak alive.
The USA faced Puerto Rico in the semis for the right to advance to the gold medal game. Despite a sluggish first quarter, which saw the North Americans trail for the first time in four games, the U.S. regrouped and surged past the Islanders 93-64 and into a rematch with Argentina for gold.
The crowds cheering for the USA inside and outside the stadium continued to build.
Behind a decimating 28-7 second quarter, the USA accomplished exactly what the previous two USA U16 squads did, vanquished all comers, including Argentina 94-48 in the championship game, en route to collecting gold at the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship.
“It was a great honor I didn't really think I was going to get it, but wen they called my name it was all a blessing,” said Malik Newman (Callaway H.S. / Jackson, Miss.), who was named the tournament MVP. “I’m just glad my teammates believe in me and the coaches did also, and I’m just glad I had a great tournament with the USA team.”
Following the celebration, which saw the athletes shower coach Showalter and the rest of the staff with the remainder of the water out of their bottles – the first time in five summers Showalter was doused following the gold medal game – the gold medal ceremony began. For the first time in their lives, the 12 athletes stood atop the gold medal podium and listened to their national anthem with a different perspective than ever before.
“It meant a lot,” said Ivan Rabb (Bishop O’Dowd H.S. / Oakland, Calif.) on hearing the anthem being played. “It meant that all the hard work that we put in during the off-season and during the school year and during out camp, it finally paid off and we got a gold medal, which was the plan from the start.”
Heading out to the bus following the game is also a moment the U16 squad will never forget. They waded through a sea of fans asking for more autographs, pictures, any uniform item with which the guys were willing to part, and cheering U-S-A as the players made their way to the bus. Even then, the locals wouldn’t give up. They surrounded the bus cheering on the U.S. squad as the driver finally made its way out of the crowd, leaving the team with lasting memories of its golden experience.