USA Basketball’s Don Showalter Still Savors Every Day Working in the Sport
After more than four decades of coaching, Don Showalter appreciates every step of the journey that has brought him to the pinnacle of international basketball.
Showalter has coached nine gold-medal-winning teams for USA Basketball, instructing young players who now are NBA stars. He has led basketball minicamps at the United States Olympic Training Center, conducted clinics across the U.S. and around the world, served on the selection committee for the McDonald’s All-American Game and worked at camps under legendary UCLA coach John Wooden.
That is on top of 42 years as a high school coach in Iowa, where his teams posted a .635 winning percentage, won 16 district titles and made six state tournament appearances — earning him state coach of the year honors 10 times.
“I literally pinch myself on daily basis,” said Showalter, now a coach director for USA Basketball, as well as head coach for the 2018 USA Men’s U17 World Cup Team. “As a high school coach coming out of Iowa, am I really in this position now? I’ve been all over the world giving clinics and camps; there are just too many people to thank for having helped me on my journey as a coach.
“That’s why I think this job that I’m in now with coach development, I want to do the same thing for other coaches. Really try to help them on their development road, no matter where it takes them.”
Showalter has a remarkable 55-0 record as coach of the USA U16 and U17 national teams, beginning in 2009. Some of the players on those teams include current NBA players Jahlil Okafor, Quinn Cook, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jabari Parker and Bradley Beal.
Prior to joining USA Basketball as a full-time employee in 2016, Showalter volunteered for 18 years with the organization, starting as USA head coach at the 1998 Nike Hoop Summit.
“We unfortunately played against a player who nobody knew at the time by the name of Dirk Nowitzki,” said Showalter. “We held him to something like 35 points and 24 rebounds that game, but that was a great experience. Actually, we played really well, but Dirk played exceptionally well.”
Showalter also coached in the USA Basketball Men’s Youth Development Festival that year. In 2001, he joined the committee that helped pick players and coaches, which he did through 2008.
The festival featured regional teams from the North, East, South and West. In 2001, the festival included a high school sophomore named LeBron James, who averaged 24 points per game to lead the North team to the gold medal. The South team, which settled for the bronze that year, had a couple guys named Carmelo Anthony and J.J. Redick.
In 2009, FIBA started its Americas U16 Championship, dropping the U20 and U21 tournaments.
“USA Basketball asked me to coach that FIBA U16 team, which included Brad Beal and Andre Drummond, two guys that are on max contracts now in the NBA; Quinn Cook, who just got a two-year contract with the Warriors,” he said.
That was initially supposed to be a two-year commitment to include the FIBA U17 World Cup, which involved many of the same players. To help establish consistency throughout the program, Showalter was asked to coach again in 2011-12.
“One thing led to another, and I’m still coaching it this year,” he said. “I’ve had a great run.”
Showalter said the offer to become coach director with USA Basketball provided the impetus to finally step away from high school coaching.
“We all look back on our careers, where we came from and how we got where we are, and some of it has to do with luck and being in the right place at the right time,” he said. “And also, I tell coaches all the time, especially young coaches, that it’s really important that you do a great job where you’re at. I was fortunate at the high school level to have some really good teams, and tried to do as good a job as I could there, so in the end, I kind of got rewarded for that, as well.”
Showalter said he was fortunate that his family was immersed in his coaching career and the opportunities it presented.
“My wife has attended every one of our USA Basketball events, U16 and U17, with me,” he said. “Our children are grown now, but they were a big part of what I was doing as well.”
Showalter said USA Basketball leadership, including CEO Jim Tooley, Men’s National Team Director Sean Ford, Youth Division Director Jay Demings and Women’s National Team Director Carol Callan, continue to build upon the foundation for success at every level, including the rapid growth of the women’s game.
As coach director, Showalter is heavily involved in developing quality coaches, helping them move from Saturday morning volunteers to coaches who understand the game and players at all levels.
“I always say that as coaches, somebody has really left us with an intense love of the game if we’re still in coaching after 42 or 44 years,” he said. “The coaches that are at our clinics, some of them are older, some are younger, but obviously somebody — probably a coach — has left them with a great love for the game, too.
“I think part of that is coaches understand how much positive effect we can have on young players and young people.”