Final Charges For Roster Spots In Play At USA Men's U19 Training Camp
And then there were 18.
The roster at the 2017 USA Basketball Men’s U19 World Cup Team training camp was slimmed from the original group of 27 to 18 athletes after the first practice on June 20. But, due to an injury, Kevin Knox II (Tampa Catholic H.S./Tampa, Fla.) was forced to withdraw from camp on Wednesday morning, making it 17 players available for selection.
With the team expected to be announced after the morning practice session on June 22, USA U19 and University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari is not holding back about what he’s looking for.
“I told them, I coach best when I have guys that really play hard and compete,” said Calipari. “You have to be tough. I kept it real with them. If you over-dribble or you hold the ball and don’t pass, you’re not making this team. I’m looking for players that are going to make other players better. You be your best and be a great teammate.”
The roster now features six players who completed their freshman seasons in college in 2016-17, not including Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky/Queens, N.Y.), who redshirted his freshman campaign at Kentucky this past winter.
Four remaining athletes will step onto their respective college campuses later this summer, while all six rising high school seniors that were invited into camp are still present and available. With the roster now at 17 players, at least one 2018 high school graduate will be selected.
One 2018 graduate is Cameron Reddish (Westtown School/Norristown, Pa.), who was a finalist for the 2016 USA Men’s U17 World Championship Team last summer, but was forced to withdraw before the team was finalized due to a groin injury.
“This would really mean a lot to me,” Reddish said of the possibility of making the team. “With the injury last year, it was rough, so I’m kind of determined to make the team this year. I want to go get a gold medal.”
Reddish was a standout at Westtown this past season, helping the Moose to a 32-2 record and a second-consecutive Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association state title while playing alongside USA gold medalist and 2017 USA Junior National Select Team member Mohamed Bamba.
All along, Reddish has embraced his opportunities to play at the highest level, even if it means running with some older guys.
“There’s no difference,” Reddish explained. “At the end of the day, it’s basketball. You go out there, you compete and give 110-percent every play. Yeah, they might be a little bit more physically developed, but hey, it’s still basketball.”
“This week has been a great experience overall,” he added.
“We get to see how coach Calipari coaches. We get to play against college players to see how we line up against them and get a taste of the next level, and I enjoy that.”
One player moving on to the next level is Mitchell Robinson (Chalmette H.S./New Orleands, La.), who is inked to Western Kentucky University for the 2017-18 season.
Robinson was a 2016 USA Men’s U18 National Team training camp participant, coming up short of a roster spot in his first go-around with USA Basketball. This time, he’s ready to break onto the scene for good.
“It would be great for me to make this team,” Robinson said.
“Last year, I didn’t make it and I really wanted to be a part of that U18 team. But I’m here now, I never thought I was going to be here, but hopefully I can make it past this second cut.”
A force for Chalmette High School in 2016-17, Robinson averaged a double-double of 25.7 points and 12.6 rebounds per game. And, he threw in 6.0 blocks per contest, too.
The Colorado Springs altitude (6,035 feet) has caught up with him this week, he admits, but Robinson is sticking to what he knows – blocking shots and hitting the boards. With the five position a healthy battle between young and more experienced, Robinson hopes he can run the floor and make enough plays to find secure a final roster spot.
“These guys are tough,” Robinson added. “They really make you pick your game up. Guys like Austin [Wiley], he’s a very strong kid. You have to play harder with guys like him, because he won’t let up.”
Austin Wiley (Auburn/Hoover, Ala.), at this camp, is nothing short of a (wily) veteran. One of six players remaining to have donned a USA Basketball jersey in an international event, Wiley also has one season of college hoops in his back pocket.
After joining the Auburn program in December, Wiley started 22 games for the Tigers in the second half of the season, and averaged 8.8 ppg. on 58.4-percent shooting, along with 4.7 rpg.
“I’m lucky to have gone through a freshman year of college, where I was playing against bigger and older guys,” said Wiley, on how his play at Auburn in 2016-17 has helped him thus far in camp.
“This last season [at Auburn], I came off the bench and I was the energy guy, so maybe a different role here would be nice, but any role with the team would be great.”
Wiley featured for the gold medal-winning 2016 USA U17 World Championship Team and averaged 8.0 ppg. and a team second-best 6.4 rpg. He also attended the 2015 U16 National Team training camp and has participated in the past three October minicamps, so he’s used to the environment, the physicality and the USA Basketball way.
His focus in this camp has been energy, communicating and cleaning up the glass. When he gets the ball in the post, he knows what he’s doing. With only two or three players expected to be chosen at his position, he’s putting all the pieces together to stake his claim.
“Last year meant a lot to me, because that was my first international experience. But this year would mean even more, because this is a harder journey to get here,” Wiley said.
“We have high school and college players here, so just to be chosen for this team would be an amazing blessing. This means more. We are playing against overseas pros and better competition. A gold medal in these games would mean a lot.”
Training camp continues on Thursday, June 22, when the 2017 USA Men’s U19 World Cup Team is expected to be announced. The team will practice in Colorado Springs ahead of the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup, which will be played July 1-9 in Cairo, Egypt.