USA U16 Men Defeat Puerto Rico 102-51 and Advance to Semifinals
The win also secured a berth for the United States into the 2020 FIBA U17 World Cup as all four semifinalists qualified for the 2020 U17s.
The USA will face Argentina (2-2) in the June 8 medal semifinals. Argentina advanced after getting past Uruguay (1-3) 62-53. Also earning a semifinal berth was Canada (4-0), which defeated Mexico (0-4) 95-78 in today’s early game, and the winner of the Dominican Republic (2-1) versus Brazil (1-2), which tips tonight at 7:30 p.m. EDT. The bronze and gold medal games will be played June 9.
Led by 15 points from Jabari Smith Jr. (Sandy Creek H.S./Tyrone, Ga.), five players scored in double digits for the U.S. AJ Griffin (Archbishop Stepinac H.S./Ossining, N.Y.) scored 14 points and had four of the USA’s 14 steals, Chris Livingston (Buchtel H.S./Akron, Ohio) notched 13 points and seven boards, Richard Isaacs Jr. (Coronado H.S./Las Vegas, Nev.) tallied 12 points and eight caroms and Max Christie (Rolling Meadows H.S./Arlington Heights, Ill.) chipped in 11 points.
Kijani Wright (Windward H.S./Los Angeles, Calif.) grabbed a game-best 10 rebounds to help the U.S. outrebound Puerto Rico 63-48.
“This team’s improvement is clear over the four games that we have played,” said USA U16 head coach Mike Jones (DeMatha Catholic H.S., Md.), who is now 29-2 overall and 6-1 as a head coach with USA Basketball against international teams. “Defensively, we’ve gotten better. The first quarter hasn’t been our best quarter, but our second, third and fourth quarters have been really good. Today we scored 60 points in the second half, and we didn’t press at all in the second half. There are just a lot of really good things. We just have to keep playing hard, keep sharing the ball and keep focusing on defense and we can be pretty good.”
“It’s good all around,” said Smith of his team’s balanced play. “That means we’re sharing the ball and everybody’s playing the right brand of basketball, which is going to help us win a gold medal.”
After a slow start that left the USA trailing by a point, 14-13, at the end of the first quarter, the U.S. took off in the second quarter.
“We need to get locked in earlier, come out with more energy and be ready to play when the game starts,” said Smith.
Outscoring Puerto Rico 9-0 out of the quarter break, USA strung together a 16-2 run that spanned the first five minutes of the period and opened the game 29-16. Puerto Rico managed a 6-3 spurt to close the gap to 10 points, 32-22, but that was as close as the game would get for the remainder of the contest. Receiving points from three different athletes, the USA closed the half with a 10-0 run and owned a 42-22 lead heading into the midway break.
“Being aggressive, that’s what gets our points, trying to get into the lane and kick-out 3s,” said Griffin. “That’s why we drive, just to kick it out to our shooters like Max (Christie) and all the other shooters on our team.”
The U.S. never let up in the second half, outscoring Puerto Rico 32-13 in the third quarter and 28-16 in the final stanza for the 102-51 final.
“It’s very tough to guard us,” said Dillon Hunter (Westlake H.S./Atlanta, Ga.). “One through 12 we have everything you need. So, it’s very hard to guard us, very hard to run offensive sets against us, anything.
“It’s amazing playing with a lot of great teammates,” added Hunter, who dished out seven of the USA’s 26 assists. “I love passing to all my teammates and getting everybody involved. It is the best feeling.”
The USA scored 28 points on Puerto Rico’s 20 miscues and allowed just five points on its eight turnovers.
“When we scrimmaged against Puerto Rico (on June 2), we had 31 turnovers and that was five days ago,” said Jones on his team’s average of 11.8 turnovers per game. “In less than a week, we’ve improved a lot in that area. They’re more used to playing with each other. We have two more chances to get even better than that.”
The USA scored 60 points in the paint and shot 44.8% (39-87 FGs) from the field, while holding the islanders to 25.7% (19-74 FGs) shooting. The U.S. also outscored Puerto Rico 26-11 on second chance points, 40-4 points in transition and 63-19 points in the paint.
“With all this talent, we work hard and it’s really hard to guard us,” added Griffin. “Having all this talent around, we all share the ball and it makes it difficult to guard us.”
Assisting Jones and the U16 squad are high school head coaches Eric Flannery (St. Edward H.S., Ohio) and Sharman White (Pace Academy, Ga.).
Having secured a berth to the 2020 U17 World Cup, the USA U16 National Team continues to play for its goal of claiming a sixth-straight gold medal at the Americas U16 tournament and a semifinal victory over Argentina is one step closer to that goal.
“Playing Argentina will be a task,” said Jones. “They’re very physical. They’re familiar with us. We’ve had some battles with Argentina over the years and these two national team programs know each other very well. We know it’ll be a physical game. We know that they play as hard as any other country with their passion and their pride. So, we’ll have to match that.”
Players eligible for this team must be 16 years old or younger (born on or after Jan. 1, 2003) and U.S. citizens.
USA Basketball has claimed the gold medal in all five editions of the biennial event, which was first held in 2009. With its victory over Puerto Rico, the USA is now 29-0 in men’s FIBA Americas U16 Championship action.
USA U16 team members of note include: Bradley Beal (2009), Vernon Carey Jr. (2017), Quinn Cook (2009), Andre Drummond (2009), Terrance Ferguson (2013), Aaron Gordon (2011), Zion Harmon (2017), Markus Howard (2015), Tyus Jones (2011), Kevin Knox (2015), James Michael McAdoo (2009), Malik Newman (2013), Jahlil Okafor (2011), Jabari Parker (2011), Diamond Stone (2013), Jason Tatum (2013), Gary Trent Jr. (2015), Jarred Vanderbilt (2015) and Seventh Woods (2013).