USA Junior National Team Members Bittle, Duren and Wright Enjoyed Challenging and Competing With Each Other
Elite high school players seeking to challenge themselves against the best competition often look to do so in the summer on travel teams. A select group of USA U16 players got something even better this past week.
With the USA Basketball Men’s U16 National Team at training camp in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, all you had to do is look at the post to see some fierce battles.
Jalen Duren (Roman Catholic H.S., Philadelphia/New Castle, Del.), Kijani Wright (Windward H.S./Los Angeles, Calif.) and Nathan Bittle (Crater H.S./Central Point, Ore.) all entered the 30-player camp for the USA team that will play in the 2019 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Belém, Brazil, from June 3-9.
The 6-foot-9 Duren, the 6-foot-8 Wright and the 6-foot-10 Bittle each brought something a little different to camp. Duren brings pure power. Wright is a mix of physicality and quickness. Bittle has the length that alters shots.
“It’s been fun,” Duren said. “You just have to love to compete. Kijani and Nate are great competition to go against every day since I’ve been out here. They help me get better, and I know I’m helping them get better.”
As the three players rotate playing against one another, they face a style they rarely see.
“Jalen is a little bit stronger and taller, so he makes one move and he puts his body into you and you kind of go back a little bit more,” Bittle said. “Whereas Kijani, he’s not as big but he’s still big. He tries to (push) you under the rim. You just have to hold your ground and be tough.”
This is the third camp the trio participated in together. In October, they were at the USA Junior National Team minicamp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and in April, there was another minicamp in conjunction with the Final Four in Minneapolis. But it is one of the rare times they play against someone of similar size and skill. So this is the chance to really work on their games as they figure out how to get past a defender they don’t normally encounter.
“It’s not just a quick, go-to move that I can use like in high school,” Wright said. “I actually have to get a few jabs in and be a lot more patient with the ball because they are a lot more physical and, of course, my size, so I have to be smarter with what I do.”
Wright’s status was a little in doubt in this camp as he was recovering from a sprained ankle. However, it was just a minor setback and he was back on the court in a few days.
Unlike the previous two minicamps, there was more urgency and intensity to this camp, which began with 30 players, because the roster was being pared down to 12 to make the trip to Brazil. With that type of competition, players were looking for any little edge they can.
Bittle said he tried to run the court more, in addition to set screens and grab offensive rebounds, a smaller role on a team filled with stars.
“It’s a little bit different, but I just have to accept my role and do my job,” Bittle said. “You know, do anything to win a gold medal.”
Bittle’s time with USA Basketball ended Wednesday as he was the last player cut from the roster. The team headed to Brazil, where it faces Argentina today to open pool play.
Regardless, all three players feel they have been made better by the daily competition.
“Just how dominant I really am and how dominant I can be,” Duren said of what he realized about his game. “By them pressuring me and being able to get through it and still get up to the rim and still be me, it’s shows how dominant I am.”
And now the rest of the world will get to see those results.
“(Playing with USA Basketball is) amazing, an amazing feeling to go out and compete and do something you love, playing basketball, and doing it with these guys, it’s an amazing feeling,” Wright said.