USA World Cup Qualifying Team Training Camp Underway
Training camp for the USA Basketball Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team got underway Thursday night. The USA coaching staff, led by head coach Jeff Van Gundy, and the 13 players hoping to earn a roster spot, met, then hit the practice court inside USC’s Galen Center.
Although Hollywood is a short distance off, this training camp is anything but Hollywood.
It is a training camp where players are working hard to make the best possible impression and earn a spot on the USA roster. And, like some of the U.S. players from Van Gundy’s AmeriCup and World Cup Qualifying teams, also possibly go on to earn a roster spot in the NBA.
“I think you’re trying to set a tone of how the week’s going to go, the challenges that are ahead of us and getting in a basic amount of how we’re going to play,” said Van Gundy about what he hoped to accomplish in practice No. 1.
As he has done in the two previous USA training camps he has overseen, he implored his players to do the things that got them invited to the USA Basketball camp.
“Do what you do best," offered Van Gundy. "Take your best shots, play to your strengths, help your teammates play to their strengths. This is not a time for experimentation. You were brought here for specific reasons, bring those skills to the practices.
13 Contending For 12 USA Roster Spots
Although 14 players originally were selected by USA Basketball and invited to the training camp, the first night featured 13 players, well actually 12.
Semaj Christon, who was the only player not currently active in the G League, recently signed to play professionally in Spain and will not attend the training. Christon was one of three players returning from the USA team that went 2-0 during the November first-round, first window games. A 6-3 guard, Christon came in off the bench for the U.S. and averaged 13.5 minutes, 6.5 points, 1.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, while shooting 44.4 percent from the field, 100.0 percent (2-2 3pt FGs) from 3-point and 100.0 percent from the foul line (3-3 FTs).
Also missing Thursday night was David Stockton, son of Dream Team and NBA Hall of Fame guard John Stockton. Stockton had a flight delay, but he will be ready to go Friday.
Returning from the November games to participate are Larry Drew II and Travis Wear.
Drew, who averaged 4.6 points and 5.0 assists as a member of the USA AmeriCup team that finished 5-0 and won the gold medal, also was on the November USA World Cup Qualifying Team but was injured and did not play in either game.
Wear played in both November World Cup Qualifying games and posted solid numbers of 10.5 points, a team second-best 7.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, all while shooting 60.0 percent from the field and 40.0 percent (2-5 3pt FGs) from 3-point.
“It’s a good feeling to get out here and have the chance to rep our country again, and hopefully get a couple of wins and to be coached by a great coach” said Wear.
Alonzo Gee is a newcomer to USA Basketball and, at 30 years old, the oldest of the USA’s 13 hopeful players.
The opportunity to potentially wear a USA jersey isn’t loss on the Sioux Falls Skyforce forward.
“I feel like this is an amazing opportunity to play for my country, and to have a chance to play with these guys and to play in these (upcoming) games, I feel like it is a great opportunity," said Gee.
“I always wanted to play for USA Basketball, but I never thought I would get the chance to actually do it. I’m grateful to have this chance to play for USA Basketball, and I feel like it’s going to be a lot of fun.
What can Gee, who has a team-high 417 NBA games of experience with seven different NBA teams, bring to Van Gundy’s squad?
“Just leadership, being a vet, being an old guy (laughing)."
And what will Gee focus on during the training camp?
“Just doing what I do – defend, being athletic, making the right plays.”
In La-La Land
The USA Team is training in Los Angeles until Feb. 20. The USA will finalize the team and its training camp and play first-round, second-window FIBA World Cup Qualifying games in Santa Cruz.
There are plenty of ties to California for several members of the USA team.
USA mentor Van Gundy was born in Southern California, and his family moved to Martinez, California, in 1967 when Jeff was in kindergarten. Van Gundy’s father, Bill Van Gundy, was in graduate school at Cal when Alhambra High School hired him as its varsity basketball coach. He coached one season at Alhambra before taking an assistant’s job at St. Mary’s College. He later coached at Cabrillo College and Cal State Hayward, then after Jeff’s freshman year at Alhambra, the family moved to Brockport, N.Y. where Bill Van Gundy served as Brockport State University head coach for six seasons.
Drew, after playing two-and-half seasons (2080-09, 2009-10, 2010-11) at the University of North Carolina, transferred to UCLA and played his senior season there. As a senior, Drew played and started in 35 games, averaged 7.5 points, 7.3 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. He shot 44.6 percent from the field and 43.3 percent from 3-point and was named All-Pac-12 first team and to the Pac-12 All-Tournament Team.
Wear played one season (2009-10) at the University of North Carolina, then transferred to UCLA and played his final three seasons (2010-11 - 2013-14) for the Bruins. In his senior season at UCLA (2013-14), Wear played in 34 games, started 28 games, and averaged 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds.
“It’s kind of a breath of fresh air only having to drive up the 405. I’ve got some friends and family that are going to be able to come out and support the team. It’s really nice,” said Wear about playing near home, who claims Huntington Beach as his hometown and currently plays for the G League South Bay Lakers.
Center Terrence Jones, will be a home next week when the USA moves its training camp to Santa Cruz. Jones, who played two seasons at Kentucky and 232 regular season NBA games, is playing for the Santa Cruz Warriors in 2017-18 and currently is averaging 20.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists a game.
Backdrop NBA All-Star 2018
While the USA players and coaches will be guests for the NBA All-Star Weekend festivities, including Sunday’s All-Star Game, making the USA roster is priority No. 1.
One of the first opportunities to make an impression will come on Sunday.
After 11 years putting on its own All-Star Game, the NBA G League is debuting a new event during NBA All-Star 2018, the NBA G League International Challenge.
All 13 of the USA players and the USA coaching staff have been named to the NBA G League USA team that will participate in the G League International Challenge.
The Challenge is an exhibition game featuring the USA G League players versus the Mexican National Team. The game is scheduled for Sunday, 1:30 p.m. PST, during the NBA All-Star Weekend and will be held at the Verizon Up Arena at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The first international exhibition game to be played during NBA All-Star festivities will be streamed live to fans globally on NBA.com, the NBA App and Twitch and in the United States on the ESPN App. The game will also be televised in Spanish language on Univision Deportes Network in the United States and Puerto Rico and Televisa Deportes Network in Mexico.