October Minicamp Provides Opportunity for Top Men’s Junior National Team Players
Eighty-four athletes gathered at the United States Olympic & Paralympic Training Center for the USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team October minicamp, a three-day event that attracted the country’s best coaching and high school basketball talent, as well as scouts from 24 NBA teams.
The 82 athletes, who spanned the high school classes of 2020 to 2023, flaunted their height, athleticism and a few windmill dunks while learning valuable lessons on and off the court.
In addition to three days of two-a-day sessions and scrimmages, the Junior National Team hopefuls also participated in educational programming about NCAA eligibility, health and safety issues and life skills development. USA Basketball and the NBA also held a forum for parents about supporting their athlete’s development on and off the court, plus a social for athletes and parents on Saturday night.
Point guard Ethan Morton (Butler, Pa., class of 2020) attended his third October minicamp and is fresh off a stint with the gold medal winning USA team at the 2019 FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup. He hopes his performance finally will land him a spot on a five-on-five national team, namely the 2020 USA Nike Hoop Summit Team.
But regardless of what the weekend brings for the 6-foot-5 forward, he said he has become a more confident player thanks to his experience at USA Basketball the last three years.
“There’s a ton of good players out here who have a lot of experience as well, so I just tried to be the best version of myself and put myself in the best position possible to make the team,” Morton said. “And whether or not I make the team, if I can come out of here and say I played the best and as hard as I could, it was all worth it.”
The final day of the minicamp featured a tournament of champions with Team 1, featuring all Class of 2020 athletes — including Morton — defeating Team 8 52-37 in the title game. Team 8 was a mix of 2021 and 2022 athletes with a single freshman, Chris Lockett Jr., a 6-foot-3 guard from New Orleans.
Just five members of the Class of 2023 were selected for the October minicamp.
“This has been fun, being taken under the older guys’ wings and playing against them,” Lockett said. “It’s been competitive, and I’ve been able to play with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder, because I’m young. It was tough (to play against older players). I’ve never played against the top players in the country, but it motivated me because I’m trying to get where they’re at and beyond that.”
Forward Efton Reid (Richmond, Va., Class of 2021) completed his first weekend with USA Basketball grateful for the intensified competition.
“I have grown tremendously, and I have learned a lot,” Reid said. “Offensively and defensively, and where I need to be on the floor and teaching me where I need to be at all times. It’s amazing to have some of the best athletes in the world to compete against. I was so happy when I got the invite, because I’ve never had the opportunity to be a part of something like this.”
USA Basketball Youth & Sport Development coaching advisor Don Showalter, who has won 10 gold medals while coaching USA Junior National Teams over the years, said he was most impressed with the young talent at the October minicamp.
“We have guys who are definitely NBA guys here. There’s no question that they are going to move on to that level,” Showalter said. “What I like about this group overall is their attitude, the way they work and the good teammates they are. They’re trying to do things the right way, and that makes a player really special – when they have a lot of talent but also when they have the right attitude and they’re great teammates.”
Showalter also said just in the last five years, USA talent has shifted to more a dynamic, international style of play, which only will benefit USA Basketball when competing internationally.
“The shooting level has gotten a lot better in the last five years, and the court has become more spread out,” Showalter said. “You don’t have that big center, so you have guys who are 7-foot who can shoot beyond the perimeter and kids can play more positions. That has elevated some of the players’ games.”
Showalter said he and some of the other USA coaches will be checking in on the athletes at their respective high schools this season, hoping to see continued improvement from each.
“Take your weakness, and make it your strength,” Showalter said in his closing remarks to the minicamp participants.
Lindsey Smith is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.