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Stephen Zimmerman

USA Basketball Scores With Youth Involvement

  • Author:
    Katherine Keel
  • Date:
    Oct 5, 2014

Colorado Springs, Colorado

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“As soon as I got the invitation, I immediately accepted,” said Paul Washington of Frisco, Texas, ”This is an opportunity you take, no question.“ 

This is the high school sophomore’s first USA Basketball Junior National Team mini-camp and Washington knew this was something he couldn’t turn down.

The USA Basketball Junior National Team program is unique in that it doesn’t actively recruit, but selectively invites talented athletes to be a part of its coveted program. This invitation to be a part of an exclusive and successful group offers both promising and already exceptional high school players the opportunity to cultivate their skills to reach a higher level.

Over the past five years, word of mouth has become the organization’s most powerful tool and the program’s fast-growing success has turned USA Basketball into a well-recognized brand.

According to Craig Miller, USA Basketball’s Chief Communications Officer, “The Junior National Team has become a status symbol for basketball across the nation -- we don’t really need to sell it anymore because most kids know about it and want to be part of it.“

A pivotal year in USA Basketball was 2008, when the USA won gold at the Olympic Games and reclaimed the title as the best team in the world. Along with the success in Beijing came an outpouring of fan support and a tremendous resurgence of youth participation in the sport domestically.

At that time, USA Basketball’s youth National Team program was smaller in size and predominately focused on U20 or U21 athletes, many of whom were already playing in college. High school athletes, however, had few opportunities to elevate their game or play for USA Basketball unless they could compete with their older and stronger peers.

The following year, the U20 and U21 competitions were eliminated by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), and in their place came the U16, U17, U18 and U19 competitions, which made way for USA Basketball’s Junior National Team program that is in place today.

Since the program’s inception in 2009, it has become one of the most highly sought after distinctions in youth basketball. Star college and NBA players such as Brad Beal, Andre’ Drummond and James McAdoo laid the groundwork in the program’s inaugural year, and it continues to grow in popularity.

What began as a way to prepare USA Basketball’s youngest teams for competition has now turned into a successful and ultra-competitive environment in which the nation’s elite high school athletes are selected to represent USA in international competitions such as the FIBA Americas U16 and U18 Championships and the FIBA U17 World Championships.  

According to BJ Johnson, USA Basketball’s Assistant Men’s National Team Director, “The triumph of the Junior National Team lies in the hands of the players who have participated in these intensive mini-camps and then progressed to be stars in college and the NBA. Their visibility and quick rise in the ranks speaks volumes for the USA Basketball program and gives hope to budding high school athletes.”

The youth program has become so popular in recent years that USA Basketball’s acceptance rate for an elite camp such as this is at an all-time high. At its inception in 2009, 40-50 percent of those players invited accepted the invitation. This year, nearly 100 percent of the invitees attended camp.

“Basically, we get the kids before they are attached to a team,” said Johnson. “From then, we are able to work with elite high school athletes and develop the skills necessary for a successful career in the sport.

“Within the last few years, it’s unbelievable how much the youth program has grown within USA Basketball. Honestly, we don’t need to do much marketing for it, as word of mouth and athlete success has spoken for us,” said Johnson.  

Unlike other camps throughout the country that focus solely on exposure, USA Basketball prides itself on players’ skill development. While downplaying the glitz and glam of a higher-exposure camp, USA Basketball camps are the “meat and potatoes” of the camp world -- known for cultivating proper technique and enhancing players’ skills to help elevate their game.

The results speak for themselves, as USA Basketball, dating back to the first U16 and U17 championships in 2009 and 2010, respectively, has compiled a perfect 38-0 record.

As the saying goes, “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke,” and USA Basketball’s youth program is the antithesis of broken, as the future of the organization looks bright in the years to come.

“The past five years have been unbelievable for our program,” Johnson said. “USA Basketball is now a household name -- a recognizable brand and an elite group of talented young athletes who elevate the game.”

The 2014 Junior National Team camp will continue on Sunday, Oct. 5 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

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