USA Men’s U17 World Championship Team Ready To Begin Play
The 2016 USA Basketball Men’s U17 World Championship Team, which began training on June 11 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is ready to tip-off play at the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship June 23 in Zaragoza, Spain, and fans in the USA will be able to watch every game live on FIBA’s YouTube channel.
The U.S., which captured the gold medal at the 2015 FIBA Americas U16 Championship to qualify for this year’s event, features six players from that team and six international newcomers.
The task at hand for the USA Basketball U17 coaching staff, headed up by Don Showalter (USA Basketball) and assistant coaches Mike Jones (DeMatha Catholic H.S., Md.) and Miles Simon (California Supreme AAU), will be to meld the 12 individuals into one cohesive unit, something the athletes understand as well.
“This is different because obviously on the circuit, you're playing with a great group of guys,” said USA Basketball newcomer Jaren Jackson Jr. (Park Tudor School/Carmel, Ind.), who has traveled extensively overseas. “But here, you're taking the best players from each team and putting them together and seeing how they can cooperate with each other and play like a team.”
Featuring 16 teams from around the world comprised of athletes who are 17 and under (born on or after 1/1/99), this year marks the fourth edition of the biennial event, and the USA has won each of the previous three U17 World Championships with undefeated records.
That said, the tournament will not be a cakewalk and the gold medal is not a given.
Those who won U16 gold last summer include: Jordan Brown (Woodcreek H.S./Roseville, Calif.); Wendell Carter Jr. (Pace Academy/Fairburn, Ga.); Markus Howard (Findlay Prep, Nev./Chandler, Ariz.); Kevin Knox II (Tampa Catholic H.S./Riverview, Fla.); Javonte Smart (Scotlandville H.S./Baton Rouge, La.) and Gary Trent Jr. (Apple Valley H.S./Burnsville, Minn.).
“They're going to help us in certain situations so that we can get better,” said Collin Sexton (Pebblebrook H.S./Mableton, Ga.), who is on his first trip outside the United States and will play in his first USA Basketball contest this week. “That helps a lot to have those (U16) guys on the team.”
The remaining five athletes donning a USA Basketball jersey for the first time are: Troy Brown (Centennial H.S./Las Vegas, Nev.); Carte'Are Gordon (Webster Groves H.S./St. Louis, Mo.); Immanuel Quickley (John Carroll School/Havre De Grace, Md.); and Austin Wiley (Spain Park H.S./Hoover, Ala).
“It's fun getting to know all the personalities,” added Jackson. “We all have the same mind-set in that we all want to be a leader, but obviously we have to all fit into a role and we're all doing a great job with that.”
The USA U17 squad landed in Spain on Monday morning and that afternoon scrimmaged Argentina, which finished with the bronze medal at the 2015 FIBA Americas U16s. The USA then took on host Spain, which qualified by virtue of finishing in fourth place in the 2015 Europe U16s, in a friendly scrimmage on Tuesday.
“Playing the last two scrimmages helped us in a major way,” said 2015 FIBA Americas U16 Championship MVP Trent. “Everybody’s getting their bumps and their lumps out of the way. We’re jelling together more, we’re knowing what each other can do and not do. We’re starting to glue together, we’re coming together as a team.”
Following two additional practices Wednesday, the U.S. will open play on Thursday afternoon against Taiwan (2:30 pm, all times listed are EDT), silver medalists at the 2015 FIBA Asia U16 Championship. From there, the USA takes on 2015 Eurobasket U16 bronze medalist Turkey (3 pm) July 24 and closes preliminary play July 26 versus 2015 FIBA Africa U16 gold medalist Egypt (8:15 am).
The international scrimmages have been a refresher course for those who have played by the FIBA rules and a crash course for those who have not.
“Slowly but steady we’re picking it back up,” said Trent. “With the traveling rules, the physicality of it, just how it’s different. Everybody is starting to adjust and we got better each (scrimmage). I feel good about where we’re going, I’m happy where we are right now.”
While all teams advance to the June 28 round of 16, from there it’s win and advance or lose and play for classification. And as the gold medal game draws closer, knowing what’s on the line, teams will get more focused and match-ups become tougher.
Showalter, who coached the previous three USA U17 teams to gold, knows what it takes and is pleased about how the team is starting to develop synergy.
“We had a couple scrimmages since we’ve been here in Zaragoza, along with our U18 scrimmages before we left Colorado Springs,” said Showalter. “I think that (with) those four major scrimmages, I think our team is progressing nicely. We still have a lot of things to work on, but I like the way we’ve come out and are aggressive on defense. I thought our defense has been very, very good the past two scrimmages against Spain and Argentina.
“Having said that, we still need to make progress in getting the ball up the court a little quicker, hitting some shots. We’re missing some shots inside that we’re going hit later on. I think we’re doing a great job of our team coming together, chemistry-wise of our team coming together. We’re doing some things on the court that shows that players aren’t concerned with their own production, but are more concerned with team production.”
“It's been cool, just to meet new guys and play with the guys who you play against on the circuit,” quipped Quickley, who also is traveling abroad for the first time. “On the circuit everybody comes from their individual team and they're all the guy on their team, but for a gold medal you have to all come together, play your role and try to do everything you can do to win a gold medal.”
For the first time both the men’s and women’s U17 World Championships are being held at in the same city, so be sure to check both the USA men’s and women’s, then logon to FIBA’s YouTube channel to follow all the action here in Spain and watch as both teams improve over the next two weeks in their quest for gold.