USA Men Push To Prepare For Pan American Games
It’s been a long road in a short amount of time for the USA men’s team in terms of its preparations leading up to the 2015 U.S. Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada.
“We’ve made a lot of progress since Colorado Springs, but as a coach coming from the college ranks, you feel like to could use 10 more practices just to cover every detail,” admitted USA head coach Mark Few.
The USA, along with Brazil, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, were drawn into Group A for preliminary round play, while Argentina, host Canada, Dominican Republic and Mexico are in Group B.
The competition format calls for each team to play the other three teams in its preliminary round group. The top two placed teams in each group will advance to the medal round semifinals on July 24. The gold medal and bronze medal games will be held on July 25.
The USA opens preliminary play today facing Venezuela (9 p.m. EDT), then on July 22 plays Puerto Rico (9 p.m. EDT), and the Americans conclude preliminary play versus Brazil on July 23 (9 p.m. EDT). All of the USA games are being broadcast on ESPN2 and ESPN3.
That’s a very ambitious five games in five days schedule.
“This particular format hits hard and it hits fast,” said Few. “The end of the day it’s about results. We’ve got to win and we’ve got to win by as much as we can to hopefully put ourselves in the medal round. Then we need to take care of business when we get to the medal round.”
The USA, which began training on July 7 with 21 players participating in the opening training camp, eventually saw the roster over the next six days whittled down to the official 12-man team.
The U.S. squad features an interesting mix of experience. Seven players currently compete in college (six are rising seniors, one is a rising sophomore), four members played professionally overseas, while one played in the NBA in 2014-15.
Ranging in age from 20 to 35 years old, the average age for the 2015 U.S. Pan American Team is 25.08 years old. Of the last six U.S. Pan American Games men’s teams, the 2015 team ranks as the fourth oldest of the six. The teams in 2007 (20.50) and 2003 (20.33) were younger and solely comprised of college players. The 1995 (26.75), 1999 (26.08) and 2011 (25.42) teams all were older than the 2015 squad.
“The veterans have been really helpful,” said Few. “They’ve seen pretty much every scenario you can run on offense, there isn’t really anything they haven’t seen. While we’re teaching, they’re also grabbing the guys off the floor to help the young guys.”
But even for the most veteran players, the condensed USA training schedule has been a fast track of basketball.
“It’s been a grueling couple of weeks. I know for me and the guys it’s been a lot of information at one time,” said Damien Wilkins, who at 35-years-old is the veteran of the team. “The thing I try to tell these guys is that the teams that we’re playing against, they’ve been playing together so long that a lot of their chemistry is built. We have to do a crash course on chemistry building, which is the toughest thing to build and one of the most important, if not the most important thing to do.
“I think we’ve done a great job of doing that and now we’re here and the preparation is done, the plays are in, and for the most part I think we’re familiar with everything. Now we just have to go out and take care of business,” added Wilkins, who during the course of his career has played in 563 NBA games.
The USA, which boasts of an 87-15 all-time win-loss record since Pan American Games play started in 1951, is looking for its ninth gold medal in the competition, but its first gold since last winning it all in 1983.
“These guys are quick learners,” stated Few. “I’ve been really encouraged by the last two scrimmages we’ve had. We’ve competed, we’ve got after it, and we’ve been pretty tough-minded on defense. If I have any concerns it’s just cleaning up some of our offensive things. I think we’ve turned the ball over kind of carelessly, and rebounding, we’ve got to address those things.”
The USA squad, while offering a wide range of experience, also offers the coaching staff, which consists of Few and assistants Tad Boyle (University of Colorado) and Mike Brown, a versatile, and a deep group of players.
“From day one in Colorado Springs we have shown we’re really good at pushing it, running in transition, and getting in into the open floor. When we kind of walk it or slow break it as I call it, we’re not nearly as efficient on the offensive end. When our defense gets our offense going that’s probably when we’re at our best.”
The players and coaching staff realize the process of becoming a team is an ongoing building process. Every time the team takes to the court is an opportunity to build on their offensive and defensive concepts, as well as expand familiarity and chemistry.
“We don’t want to be the best team here right now. I think the team that gets better with each and every game, each and every night, is the team that normally in these types of situations wins,” said Wilkins. “So we’ve got to go out and improve from the scrimmages, learn from the film of the scrimmages, learn from the next game, and take it one game at a time and just keep growing and keep getting better one game at a time.”
Coach Few, who has led his Gonzaga teams to 15 outright or shared West Coast Conference regular season league titles in his 16 seasons and has advanced his teams to 16 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, knows more than little something about what it takes for a team to be successful and he has shared his insight with the USA team.
“I’ve talked to them a long time about just focusing on the process. The process is about us playing hard, playing together, being really tough to score on and executing on the offensive end, and then the winning should take care of itself,” said Few.
The USA has faced its opening opponent Venezuela five times and won all five. The last meeting between the two countries occurred in 1991 and the Americans claimed a one-sided 91-66 victory.
You can follow the 2015 U.S. Pan American Men’s Basketball Team throughout its journey on Twitter at #USABmpag.
USA versus Venezuela at 9 p.m. EDT on July 21 (live on ESPN2 and ESPN3)
USA versus Puerto Rico at 9 p.m. EDT on July 22 (live on ESPN2 and ESPN3)
USA versus Brazil at 9 p.m. EDT on July 23 (live on ESPN2 and ESPN3)
Semifinals on July 24 (live on ESPN2 and ESPN3)
Finals on July 25 (live on ESPN2 and ESPN3)