October Minicamp Mixes Classes To Continue Junior National Team Development
Fifty-one of the nation’s top high school players gathered at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, this weekend for the seventh edition of the USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team October minicamp.
The minicamp, which is held on the first weekend in October, features members of the high school classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018 together on the court for four intense training sessions, and the purpose is help USA Basketball field experienced teams for the next year’s international competitions. The upcoming summer of 2016 includes the 19th Nike Hoop Summit, the FIBA U17 World Championship and the FIBA Americas U18 Championship.
For many of the players, including 2015 USA Basketball Men’s U16 National Team gold medalist Tre Jones (Apple Valley H.S./Apple Valley, Minn.), the minicamp is not the first time they have participated in a USA Basketball training camp, which helps as they arrive to Colorado Springs.
“I am excited because it is the best competition from across the country, and it is always a great time to be back here,” Jones said. “We have a lot of fun while we compete against each other.
“I feel like the things that helped me last summer, which helped me make the team, I’m going to try to do, and then other things they want me to do, I will try to do those things, too.”
Jones may have the benefit of playing for the USA in an international tournament under the direction of USA JNT head coach Don Showalter (Iowa City H.S., Iowa), but even those who did not travel to Argentina for the FIBA Americas U16 Championship had the experience of a USA training camp under their belt.
“I’m coming back with good memories and trying to prove something,” said Montez Mathis (Oak Hill Academy, Va./Essex, Md.), who participated in the U16 training camp this past June but was not selected to the 12-member team. “I think I have gotten better since the last time I was here. I got a lot stronger. And, I met a lot of new friends, so that was great.”
One of the unique aspects of the minicamp is the range in ages, 15 to 18 years old, and among the rising high school seniors are three-time gold medalists, such as Terrance Ferguson (Advanced prep International/Dallas, Texas), as well as first-time USA Basketball athletes, such as Omari Spellman (St. Thomas More School, Conn./Middletown, N.Y.).
For Ferguson, who won gold medals as a member of the 2013 U16 and 2014 U17 teams and 2015 U19 USA World Championship team, familiarity has not led to complacency.
“Just being here for a fourth-straight season is pretty awesome,” Ferguson said. “Playing against the great players in our class, and the younger classes – it’s always good to be back.
“It shows me where I’m at,” Ferguson said of how camp helps him personally. “They put you through it, and the altitude is high, so it’s hard to get through everything. But, they just want to see you push through everything, so that what I’m here for – to push through.
“I try to be better every time I come out here, so that is my goal for the rest of the weekend.”
Despite the fact that Spellman will put on his first USA Basketball practice jersey, he is far from intimidated.
“I just prepared the same way I prepare for everything,” Spellman explained. “Coming off of an injury, it was tough. I gained a little weight. I’ve just been playing hard, working out hard for the last month at St. Thomas More, and hopefully I can do well and come back again next time, too.”
When he received his invitation to the minicamp from B.J. Johnson, USA Basketball Assistant Men’s National Team Director, Spellman said he also got some advice that has stuck with him.
“He said you don’t want to come here and fit in, so that is my mindset,” said Spellman. “I want to go out and show why I am here, and I want to show them that I should be here. So, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
And as for the competition, Spellman is ready to step up.
“I’ve been playing against the top competition since I was in the ninth grade, so I learned very quickly that if you don’t bring it every night, somebody will, and it is not going to be good for you. To be here, you have to be willing to compete.”