USA Men’s U17 Squad Ready for Next Stop In Its Journey to FIBA U17 World Championship
Colorado Springs, Colorado
After starting out competing alongside 32 of the nation’s top 17-and-unders on July 24, the 12 members of the 2014 USA Basketball Men’s U17 World Championship Team officially were named to the team on July 29 and began the international portion of their journey to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Aug. 2.
During their week-long training camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the athletes practiced twice a day, scrimmaged three times against a couple of local men’s teams -- mostly collegians from the U.S. Air Force Academy -- and worked hard at learning plays and coming together as a team.
“We’ve been in training camp for over a week and had two practices a day,” said USA head coach Don Showalter (Iowa City H.S., Iowa). “I think we’re further along than our past U17 teams, just from the standpoint of execution. We got all our presses in. I feel really good about the players knowing what to do and what to expect.”
“Training camp went really well,” echoed Devearl Ramsey (Sierra Canyon H.S./Los Angeles, Calif.), who won gold with the 2013 USA U16s. “I think we’re coming together as a team and everything is coming together for us. Training camp was hard for us at first, but as the days went on, we got better.”
“I liked it,” added Diamond Stone (Dominican H.S./Milwaukee, Wis.). “Guys competed. We were listening to great coaching in Coach Showalter, coach Goolsby and coach Flannery. It was a great camp.”
The foundation for team chemistry was laid last summer when nine of the 12 went through the same process and eventually captured the gold medal at the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Uruguay. Adding in three new players, including Tyus Battle (Gill St. Bernard’s School/ Edison, N.J.), Henry Ellenson (Rice Lake H.S./Rice Lake, Wis.) and Caleb Swanigan (Homestead H.S./Fort Wayne, Ind.), the team didn’t skip a beat in bonding as it picked up where it left off last year.
“These past couple of days the team built a great bond together,” said Terrence Ferguson (Prime Prep Academy/Flower Mound, Texas). “We were practicing two times a day, so it’s been a great time. The chemistry is the same (as last year), even adding three new people we still have a great bond. We still have the chemistry there. It’s been a great time.”
Chemistry is important on any team that is striving to win a championship. However, unlike the University of Connecticut, which captured the 2014 NCAA Championship after five months of training and playing together, these 12 players and three coaches don’t have that much time. The USA squad has one week in Colorado, a few days in Doha, Qatar, and then one day in Dubai to gel before tipping-off play at the third FIBA U17 World Championship on Aug. 8. Sometimes, that is enough time to do what’s necessary.
“I thought it went well,” said Ellenson, who is competing on his first USA team this year. “I thought I had a good training camp, a good couple of days that I was able to show what I can do and what I can bring to the team. Over the past week we’ve been practicing a lot, we’ve been sharpening up every practice from day-to-day, so I think we’re doing a good job.”
Not only does the USA have a target on its back as the two-time defending gold medalist, but with the change in competition structure, there is not much room for error. Previously, there were six games in the preliminary round. Six games to get better, improve on weaknesses and work on the little things that help a team win championships. This year, however, the prelims feature just three games, and from there teams advance to the knockout stages -- the round of 16 will be contested Aug. 12, quarterfinals are slated for Aug. 14, semifinals on Aug. 15 and the finals will take place Aug. 16. It’s win and advance, or lose and play in the consolation round. And the USA does not want to return with anything less than gold.
“It’s different,” said Showalter regarding the new format. “You can play really, really well for the first three games and then all of a sudden you get into that knockout round and there’s not a chance to come back. The kids have to understand that, and I think they’re on top of that. We as a coaching staff have to do a really good job of making sure we’re prepared for that for the first game coming into (the round of 16). Because if you lose that one, you don’t have a chance for a gold medal. That’s a pretty big deal.”
Showalter knows how tough the competition is going to be at the U17s. He coached the 2010 and 2012 USA U17 World Championship teams to a pair of gold medals and a combined 16-0 record. He knows talented teams and knows what he needs from this year’s team in order to make a run for gold in Dubai.
“The other two U17 teams were really very good,” said Showalter. “Obviously they had very good players on the teams -- Bradley Beal and Andre Drummond, who are trying out for this year’s USA World Cup Team are just two examples. I think this team does, too. I think this team might be a little bit better from maybe the defensive standpoint, but probably not quite the offensive team that the last two teams were. But, I think we have what it takes to compete for gold.”
That said, Showalter still wants to tighten things up prior to the Aug. 8 tip-off against what should be a talented Greece squad, and knows that the team will need to continue to improve each game if it hopes to stand atop the medal podium on Aug. 16.
“As we progress in the tournament, there will be things we still need to work on, such as the scouting of the other teams, taking advantage of what they’re going to give us,” he said. “That’ll come after we start playing. We also have some things on defense that we’ll need to clean up a little bit during practice over the next few days as far as closing out, help-side defense, things like that.”
As the USA U17 team members closed out the first leg of their journey and prepared to pack their bags for the next, 2013 FIBA Americas Championship MVP Malik Newman (Callaway H.S./Jackson, Miss.) summed it up best: “All the guys came out to training camp and competed. We listened to coach. Coach gave us some good things. With the tournament that we have coming up and our work ethic, I think we’ll be fine heading overseas.”