U17 World Cup Players Fland and Jackson Light the Flame for Bronx Basketball
If you glance at the U.S. roster for the FIBA U17 World Cup, you’ll notice that the 12 players come from nine different states.
One of the two states with multiple representatives is New York. But the two native New Yorkers on the squad don’t hail from Manhattan or Brooklyn or Long Island.
They are proud natives of the Bronx, and both have already played prominent roles in U.S. victories so far at the U17 World Cup in Malaga, Spain.
“Two kids from the Bronx representing their country,” Johnuel “Boogie” Fland boasted with a smile. “I feel like they say New York basketball is dead, but me and Ian (Jackson) are showing the way, showing that the opportunity is out there for us to get that exposure, to travel to other countries. I think it brings back the idea that basketball in the Bronx and in New York is back.”
Jackson scored 21 points in the team’s opening 120-44 win against Lebanon on July 2. Fland had five steals in the same game. The U.S. went on to beat Slovenia and Mali, and as the Americans enter the round of 16 following a win over Egypt in the final game of the group phase, Fland and Jackson have continued to shine bright. Jackson leads the team in scoring, averaging 18 points-per-game, while Fland has totaled the most assists by any player at the World Cup so far with 22.
The two highly ranked high school players in the Class of 2024 have made a name for themselves over the last year — both on and off the court.
Their bond dates back to late 2021, when they became two of the first prep athletes to sign name, image and likeness (NIL) deals. Merchandise company Spreadshop signed them to six-month contracts to endorse the brand on social media.
“I’m definitely glad I got involved with it,” Jackson said. “It opened a lot of doors and helped me learn a lot of things.”
“It opens doors,” Fland said. “You see how it’s changing the lives of college players and now high school players, too.”
Their connection continued through the winter as their respective high school teams embarked on a journey that ended in the New York CHSAA Class AA championship game. Jackson’s Cardinal Hayes High School team got the best of Fland’s Stepinac High School, 79-59.
“That was big,” Jackson said. “Just going into the game, they’d beaten us (in the previous matchup) so we went into that game really wanting to win.”
Jackson and Fland stayed in touch through the spring, and they were excited to make the USA Basketball Men’s U17 National Team when the roster was announced in June.
Both said they liked the look of the team. “We’re all basketball players,” said Fland, who will turn 16 years old July 10 and is one of the youngest players on the team.
“We play one through five. Everybody on the team is versatile, resilient, tough.”
“I love how much versatility there is,” added the 17-year-old Jackson. “Every player can do everything.”
So it comes as no surprise that Jackson and Fland admire each other’s game, as well.
“He’s versatile,” Fland said of Jackson, a 6-foot-6 guard. “He can shoot, he can dunk, defend, rebound the ball. He’s just a good basketball player.”
“He’s a traditional point guard,” Jackson said of the 6-foot-3 Fland. “He gets after it on defense. He knocks down the deep ball at an efficient rate. He makes the right reads.”
For Jackson, this is his second stint with USA Basketball. He was a member of last year’s FIBA U16 Americas Championship team that won a gold medal in Xalapa, Mexico. He scored 30 points in a game against Chile.
“Being able to go out there and compete and win the gold medal with those guys, it was just great,” Jackson said.
But while Jackson made the U16 team, Fland had to sit out due to a heart abnormality. He insists that it wasn’t too severe, although the issue was alarming enough that he was sent back to New York for further testing.
“Too much playing basketball,” he said. “So I took a week off.”
Fland and Jackson both reflected on how much they endured to get to this point in their promising basketball careers.
“I probably wouldn’t expect to be where I am right now,” Fland said. “Those times in the gym when I didn’t want to work out, or when I did not believe in myself, I wouldn’t have thought I could be here right now. My mom taking me to workouts that I didn’t want to go to or my dad helping me improve my jump shot. Sacrificing my sleep with 6 a.m. workouts and two-a-days. Staying in the gym, working on my craft over the last one or two years.”
“Just not being able to do the typical high school things,” Jackson added. “Things like chill with friends all the time, being outside late, having fun, just trying to be a kid, really. Some of those things have to come second when you’re trying to become great.”
In the long run, they hope the journey leads to the NBA. In the short term, they’ve got their eyes on a world cup title.
“I feel like everyone on our team is focused on the same thing,” Fland said. “Trying to win that gold.”
“It would just be big for two kids from the Bronx to be able to win a gold medal,” Jackson added. “It’s definitely trailblazing and not often seen from New York. It would definitely be great.”
Drew Silverman is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.