Day After NBA Draft, USA U19 Players Reflect On Their World Cup Team Selection
Thursday, June 22, 2017, will be remembered as a special day by some of tomorrow’s most recognized basketball athletes.
While the NBA welcomed 60 of the world’s premier basketball players via the 2017 NBA Draft Thursday evening. Earlier in the day, 12 of the nation’s top 19-and-under athletes also turned dreams into reality with their selection to the 2017 USA Basketball Men’s U19 World Cup Team.
The FIBA U19 World Cup for Men, which is in its 13th installment in 2017, will be played July 1-9 in Cairo, Egypt, and is considered the top global competition at the youth level.
The USA has a rich history in the U19 event, winning six gold medals all-time, including the past two golds in 2013 and 2015. Six of the 12 players from the USA U19 roster in 2015 were selected in the 2017 NBA Draft, including lottery picks Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum, while Nigel Williams-Goss, who played for the 2013 USA U19 World Cup Team, was picked up as well.
Is there a correlation? Who knows. Is this the beginning for the 2017 USA U19 athletes? Certainly not.
But, it’s another opportunity – a chance to gain experience at the international level, and an opportunity to represent the red, white and blue in the quest for a third-consecutive gold medal. And those things alone mean a lot.
Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech/Snellville, Ga.), a 6-foot-4, 207-pound guard, made his first trip to the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, this week, with the hopes of earning a spot on the 12-man roster.
Thursday morning, he did.
“This is big,” Josh began. “I came in here last Sunday and there were 27 people. Everybody could play and everybody could score. When we were scrimmaging, nobody missed a shot. Everybody went 100-percent. But, it was just about the little things.
“Me, I tried to make sure I did the things that I learned at Georgia Tech and transitioned them here, because I knew I had a little advantage over some of these guys because I have a college season under my belt.”
Okogie, who noted he said 30 prayers Wednesday night, was a stud for the Yellow Jackets in 2016-17, leading the team in scoring at 16.1 points per game. He was a 2017 Atlantic Coast Conference All-Freshman Team selection and featured on the 2016 ACC All-Academic Team.
For this year’s USA U19 team, which will mark his international debut with USA Basketball, Okogie knows exactly what he is going to bring to the team.
“Energy,” he said. “Coach said we are playing what, seven games in nine days? So, the first game and second game, everybody is going to be all hype, and then by that third or fourth game, we will start to be fatigued. I think my job will be to kind of bring the energy plays, and to help get everybody riled up and excited.”
Okogie will be looked to for leadership, simply for his proven abilities against college competition, but its U19 teammate Kevin Huerter (Maryland/Clifton Park, N.Y.) that may boast the most insight with regard to international and collegiate experience.
Huerter is rostered in the wake of a highly successful freshman campaign at Maryland, where he started all 33 games for the Terrapins and averaged 9.3 ppg. and 4.9 rpg. in 29.4 mpg. He is a gold medalist, too, winning with the 2016 USA Men's U18 National Team at the 2016 FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Valdivia, Chile, where he averaged 6.8 ppg. and 1.6 rpg.
“I was really excited when I found out,” he said. “With how last year went with winning gold and how that set up for this year, I was looking forward to making this team. I’m just excited for another opportunity.”
Huerter is joined by Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky/Corona, N.Y.) and PJ Washington (Findlay Prep/Frisco, Texas) as returning members from the 2016 USA U18 team, which, by the way, earned the USA its qualifying place in this year’s U19 World Cup. However, Huerter is the only of those three to play collegiately this past season.
“A little bit,” said Huerter, on if he thinks he will step into a position to lead this team.
“But, I think we have a lot of talent on this team, so guys just have to buy in to what the coaches are saying. With international play, we know what to expect. Teams may be a little bit more prepared than we are, but we just have to play and do what we do.”
Huerter, himself, says he is a guy that can make shots. He also can defend, he’s a good passer and he’s intelligent. He tries to bring more good than bad, just like everyone else.
“When I’m out on the court, I try to talk as much as I can,” Huerter added. “That’s something I’m carrying with me from Maryland. I want to play as hard as I can and contribute in any way I can for us to win.”
Immanuel Quickley (The John Carroll School/Bel Aire, Md.) tells a different story, but it’s not far off line. Quickley is a USA Basketball gold medalist, taking home gold with the 2016 USA Men’s U17 World Cup Team in Zaragoza, Spain.
He hopes to parlay this past summer into another golden effort this July.
“It’s just great to be able to represent our country overseas again, after going to Spain last summer with the U17s. This is really a great feeling,” said the 6-foot-3 Quickley. “No doubt, this has been a great week,” he continued. “Playing against the older guys, even just here, it’s really good for you. The speed of the game and the strength of the players is much different, so it’s big for you as a player.”
One of four high school players scheduled to graduate in 2018 to make the 12-man roster, Quickley accepts the challenge of competing against older counterparts. It’s probably going to be that way down the road too, assuming he and his other U19 teammates wind up as NBA Draft picks in a few years time.
The USA U19 team continues with practice in Colorado Springs, and will train through June 25 before departing for Egypt. The USA opens the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup for Men competition on July 1 against Iran, before matching up with Angola on July 2 and rounding out Group D play against Italy on July 4.