USA Junior National Team Prepping The Right Way Under Eric Flannery’s Tutelage
A twelve-year member of the USA Basketball Junior National Team Committee, which selects players and coaches for the USA junior teams, and two-time gold medalist as a USA assistant coach, this week Eric Flannery is preparing the nation’s top high school seniors for the 18th annual Nike Hoop Summit, which will see the USA Junior National Select Team take on the World Select Team in a one-game battle on April 11 (3 p.m. EDT on ESPN2) at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon.
The game pits America’s top high school seniors against the best basketball players from around the world who are 19 years old or younger, and unlike many of the spring high school all-star games, the outcome is important.
“What makes this game so special is it’s not an all-star game,” said Flannery following his team’s second day of practice. “It’s two teams that are playing for pride. Obviously, they want to prove things individually, so they’re going to show their individual talent, but both teams more importantly want to win the game. I think the best of the best show up in situations like that.”
Flannery, who has won two Ohio Division I state titles as head coach of St. Edward High School, only has three days to prepare his team. But that doesn’t have him worried, because he has worked with most of them in the past.
In fact, 10 athletes on the 11-member roster have won at least one gold medal playing for USA Basketball, and Flannery has coached nine of them on a team or at a training camp.
• VIDEO: Day 2 Practice
His Nike Hoop Summit assistant coach L.J. Goolsby (KC Run GMC, Kan.) teamed with Flannery as the duo served as assistant coaches for the 2013 USA U16 National and 2014 USA U17 World Championship teams that earned gold medals. Two members of the USA Junior National Select Team, Malik Newman (Callaway H.S./Jackson, Miss.) and Ivan Rabb (Bishop O’Dowd H.S./Oakland, Calif.), played for Flannery and Goolsby on both the U16 and U17 teams, while Caleb Swanigan (Homestead H.S./Fort Wayne, Ind.) was a member of the 2014 USA U17 squad.
Seven of the athletes on the USA squad attended the 2014 USA Developmental National Team mini-camp this past October, where Flannery and Goolsby had a chance to work on a few basic elements Flannery wanted to put into play this week.
“The fact that we’ve gotten to know these guys over the years has really helped,” said Flannery. “It’s made it a lot more comfortable for me as a coach to either tell them what to do or get on them and feel okay about it, and I think they take it the right way. That doesn’t always happen in games like this when a coach comes in and all of a sudden starts telling guys what to do. So, we’ve built up some relationships, and I think that really goes a long way.
“Last fall we put in our base system, our ball-screen offense, we put in our transition game offensively,” he added. “We put in a couple defensive schemes. So the first practice in Portland, we picked up from there. A lot of what we did Wednesday was review. (Thursday morning) we put in some new stuff, and by (Thursday night) we’ll have everything in. Over the last two practices we’ll be able to review, refresh and get through everything we’ve done.”
The USA looks like it is ready to take on the World Team, but one more day of practice will hone their ability to work as a team. And that is important. While the USA owns a 12-5 edge in the series, the World Team has won three of the past six Nike Hoop Summit games, including back-to-backs in 2012 and 2013.
But, Flannery is confident in his players and their ability to gel in time to impress the national TV audience and those in attendance in Portland.
“What’s really exciting is how quickly they’ve picked everything up,” he said. “They’ve adapted to everything we’ve asked. Their energy is high-level, they’re working hard, and we can’t ask for much more.”
Flannery closed with this thought, “If you really want to see the best 22 players in the world at this age-level play and show off their talents, you want to watch this game.”
Don’t miss your chance to see the USA Junior National Team in the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit on ESPN2 at 3 p.m. EDT on Saturday, April 11. If you are in the Portland area, get your tickets at usab.com/nikehoopsummit.