Jaylen Nowell Honors Late Father With USA U16 Roster Spot
For Jaylen Nowell, a 6-foot-4 guard out of Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington, being named to the 12-member USA Basketball Men’s U16 National Team carried with it special meaning – something even more personal than the honor of getting to represent the United States in international competition.
Just weeks before Nowell would travel to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to compete as one of 29 hopefuls for the USA Men’s U16 National team, his father, Mike, one of Nowell’s coaches at Garfield High School, passed away on May 11 after a long-term illness.
“That was his last wish before he passed,” Nowell said of his selection to the USA U16 National Team. “And just to be able to make the team and know that he is watching over me and know that I’m making him proud right now is a great feeling.”
The reality of losing his father still is new, of course, and Nowell said he has had times of sadness during the USA training camp, too.
“Some of these guys, they were able to call their parents, and I was only able to call my mom,” Nowell said of the team announcement. “It was kind of sad to me that I couldn’t call my dad and tell him. To hear him laugh, praise, everything. But I know he’s watching over me. I know that I’m making him proud right now.”
With two practices a day for the past week, Nowell has formed friendships with his teammates, and he said he is enjoying his time as a part of USA Basketball.
“I’m finding a lot of strength in my teammates. They are all cool guys, and we get along well. I’m happy that this team got chosen, and I’m willing to do whatever I’ve got to do to make sure we bring this gold back.”
He also has kept in touch with his family back home, talking specifically of his mother, his sister and two grandmothers.
They are following Nowell’s progress via @usabasketball on Twitter, because they saw the news that Nowell had made the team just minutes after he found out himself.
“As soon as I got the news, like right when I walked out of the room, they were texting me. I don’t know how they knew the information, but they texted me saying, good job, we’re praying for you, have fun, everything like that.”
This is Nowell’s first experience with USA Basketball, and he is learning each day in practice under the direction of USA head coach Don Showalter (Iowa City H.S., Iowa) and USA assistant coaches Miles Simon (California Supreme AAU) and Sharman White (Miller Grove H.S., Ga.).
“I didn’t know it was going to be this intense of a practice,” Nowell explained. “The first days, everybody was trying to make the team. I didn’t know it was going to be that intense. I thought it was laid back. Some of these guys are really good, and I thought they would have thought they made the team already. But, the competitiveness was really great.
“I’ve improved very much on my defense,” Nowell added. “Because coming in, I didn’t play that much (defense). Most of these guys probably didn’t play that much (defense), because there are so many stars in their states and cities.
“I’m happy because that is really what I wanted to improve on coming out here. And to get to do that is great.”
While the environment might have taken Nowell a short time to adjust to, he said he is fortunate that he already had a habit of trying to play against the best players he could find.
“I’ve been in that setting before, not guys my age, though. Because guys my age that live around my area, they aren’t at this level yet. I always play with older guys, too.”
Now that the 12-member roster has been chosen, Nowell and his teammates have shifted their collective focus to the remainder of training camp and the upcoming FIBA Americas U16 Championship that will be played June 10-14 in Bahia Blanca, Argentina.
“Well, anything that coach wants me to do,” Nowell said of what he hopes to contribute to the team. “I’m definitely willing to play defense, because that is what I’m trying to do; I’m trying to get better at that. Because if I get better at that, that is going to take me to the next level.”
Nowell said he very much is looking forward to playing with alongside his teammates, but he is not necessarily looking forward to international rules that vary from the U.S., such as the nuance of what constitutes a traveling violation. (Essentially, FIBA rules are slightly more strict than American standards.)
“That one (rule) - you have to keep your pivot foot down until you dribble, that is really weird. I’m going to practice on that in the gym now, and hopefully I can do that when I get down there.”
It also will be Nowell first international voyage.
“I’m also a little nervous because I do not know what to expect down there. I do know a little Spanish. I’ve been practicing my Spanish in Spanish class. I’m hoping to have a full conversation with somebody when I get down there.”
While the USA will be looking to capture a fourth-straight gold medal in as many editions of the U16 tournament, Nowell said he will be looking to not only fulfill the promise that he made to his father, but to continue to make him proud.
“That’s going to be a great feeling, just to represent my country and every body that is in it … I’m going to go out there, and I’m going to make sure that they know what the U.S. is about and set a good example for them,” Nowell said.
“(My family) is who I’m doing it for mainly. I’m trying to do it for them, not just me. I would like to (win gold for myself), but I would love to do it for them. They are my rock and they have helped me get to this point now.”