Intense Training Camp Practices Preparing USA Men’s AmeriCup Hopefuls
Every dribble is pressured, every pass is challenged and every shot is contested.
It’s being called training camp, but it’s really more of a weeklong tryout. Every one of the 17 invitees at the USA Basketball Men’s AmeriCup Team training camp is fighting tooth and nail for one of the 12 roster spots that will compete in the AmeriCup Group C preliminary round games on Aug. 28-30 in Montevideo, Uruguay.
The players come from a wide range of backgrounds and experience levels, with most players currently on NBA G League rosters, some carrying NBA experience and others with experience in international competition.
But at the University of Houston’s Guy V. Lewis Development Facility everyone wears “USA” on their chest. Some wear the navy side, some wear the reversed white side, and a few wear temporary yellow jerseys to set them apart in drills.
From the very beginning of introductory remarks, head coach Jeff Van Gundy let the players know the level of intensity that he expected from the training camp. In a departure from the friendly and comical personality he often displays as an NBA television analyst that the players might be most accustomed to, Van Gundy is an unrelenting perfectionist. He demands a high level of attention to detail, and if it’s not there, he will frequently stop practice to let his players know it.
“I think he set the tone from Day 1 what he expects from us and what kind of team he wants us to be,” center Marshall Plumlee said. “He’s setting the mindset for our team to play aggressive with flow, rhythm and force.”
Plumlee said in doing his homework on Van Gundy, he came across old videos of Van Gundy being involved in on-court altercations when he was head coach of the Knicks in the 1990s.
“That fired me up,” Plumlee said. “He’s not just the kind of coach that wants us to fight -- he’s the kind of coach that will fight for us. You just want to run through a wall for him.”
The fiery Van Gundy said after Thursday’s practice that, considering the short turnaround time that the team has to work with before competition, the team has no choice but to have this intense approach.
“They’re smart guys who play at a high level of basketball, but we’re behind as far as preparation time, practice time, exhibition games and continuity that the other teams have,” Van Gundy said. “That’s why we have to have a great passion and intensity about what we do.”
Van Gundy’s style as a coach in practice lends itself to the competitive nature of this week of training camp. There’s an element of grit that he and USA Basketball staff are looking for in this team. It’s no secret that the roster won’t carry the superstar talent that swept its way to another gold medal last summer in Rio, but that doesn’t mean the expectations will be any lower.
With the roster likely to be trimmed from 17 to 12 toward the end of the weeklong training camp, scrappy players are fighting to showcase how they can contribute to the team. Because no matter how grueling and physical the battles are in practice, every workout concludes with the team huddling around a common chant.
“Together on three,” one player yells before counting down and the team answers in unison: “Together!”