Category Archives: USA Basketball

Dakari Johnson: Jolly Giant

BDN Photo Dakari Johnson

At 6'10" and 260 pounds, Dakari Johnson can't play in the shadow of many people, but behind St. Patrick's star player Michael Gilchrist, he was able to have a relatively smooth and productive freshman season, incrementally improving month by month. The rising sophomore ultimately averaged nine rebounds and three blocks per game, while playing against elite-level high school competition, starting six games for USA Today's number two high school team in the country. Johnson was named ESPN Rise's National Freshman of the Year for his significant contributions to the national power Celtics.

His talent and height are not necessarily an unexpected blessing. His mother, Makini Campbell, is 6'5" and played college basketball at Long Island University, while his father, Thomas Johnson is 6'10" and played for St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY.

This wasn't Dakari's first experience playing varsity basketball. At Sayre Middle School, he played varsity basketball in Lexington, Kentucky, where Dakari and his mother had moved for a few years. This year, the Brooklyn native achieved a 3.7 grade point average in the classroom, while his mother was hired at St. Patrick's as an English teacher, when a position became available during the school year.

In a critical match-up against eventual National Prep champion St. Thomas More and their star center 6'11" Andre Drummond, the Brooklyn freshman stepped up his game, scoring twelve points and grabbing nine rebounds in a 73-61 win. After playing a vital role on his 26-1 Celtics team, the fifteen year-old manned the middle for a Gauchos AAU team in desperate need of an interior presence. Johnson will, however, be sidelined for the foreseeable future with a sprained ankle suffered during the LeBron James Skills Academy, where he was one of the youngest participants.

In June, the 2014 prospect competed as part of the USA Basketball's Developmental National Team in Colorado Springs. Despite ultimately not getting selected for this year's 16U team, Coach Showalter had very complimentary things to say about Dakari's long-term potential and future with USA Basketball. One big decision on the immediate horizon for Johnson is whether he will return to St. Patrick's following the departure of long-time Celtics head coach, Kevin Boyle, who left to take a similar but more financially lucrative position with Montverde Academy in Florida.

Recently, Dakari, a friendly and precocious young man, spoke briefly with Blue Devil Nation about his USA Basketball experience, Kyrie Irving, and embracing his role as a low-post big man.

Can you tell the audience a little bit about yourself away from the court?
Away from the court? Oh, I'm just a funny person who likes to just hang out with my friends and just chill.

What about your year at St. Patrick's and where are you going from here?
My year at St. Patrick's was very good. I was the only freshman on my team.
Did you feel like a rock star with all of the attention? 
(laughs) No, I didn't feel like a rock star, but I just had to play a role and you really feel like you develop month by month. Yeah, I think I came along at St. Pat's. Since we played in competition, I tried to raise my level of play. I think it really got me better. 

Are you a really good student? I know your mother teaches English... Do you know Mr. Konchalski?
No, no… Oh, you mean Tom. Yeah, I know Tom.
I'm sorry. I always call him Mr. Konchalski.
So, are you a good student?
Yeah, I'm a very good student. I have a 3.7 average.

Are any colleges expressing interest at this point?
Oh, yeah, Syracuse, Georgetown, Kentucky, Villanova, just a lot of them. A bunch of schools.

I assume you're wide open and in no rush to decide at this point, is that right?
Oh, yeah, I'm wide open. No rush. 

Have you taken any visits?
Oh, yeah, I went to Georgetown for Midnight Madness. I took a visit to Kentucky last year and Louisville last year. Yeah, and I took a visit to Xavier last year.

Can you touch on the fact that you actually lived in Kentucky during middle school? You went down for various reasons and you guys came back for employment and basketball reasons. 
Yeah, I lived there.
Because you're a Brooklyn boy too..
(laughs) Yeah, I'm a Brooklyn boy. I was in Kentucky during my middle school years and I actually played Varsity and J.V. 
Great competition?
(laughs) No, it wasn't the toughest.

Who do you try to model your game after?
Andrew Bynum.
Andrew Bynum? Yeah, I could see that.
Yeah, Andrew Bynum. He's got long arms and a big body like me. I hope to become like him one day.

How big are you right now?
I'm about 6'11" and 260.

What are you trying to do with your body?
Trying to get stronger, trying to hit the weight room, lose some fat.
Everybody has a trainer these days, do you have a trainer?
Yeah, I got a trainer his name is John.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?
My strengths are being mentally tough and my post play. My weaknesses are my conditioning, but I've gotten better at that really for the past month since I've been training. I'm trying to take some weight off.

That's good. In terms of position, do you view yourself as more of a four or a five?
I wouldn't say I'm a pure five, but, if I have to play the four, I can. I'm very open to either.

Have you tried to work on your face-up game or are you more of a back-to-the-basket guy?
I've been trying to just work on shooting the ball. I want to be able to stay with my strength, but I want to shoot better, so I'm going to work on my face-up game, too.

Can you comment on your mother? Like you, she's also taller than me. She's about 6'5", right?
(laughs) Yeah, she plays basketball. Really, she's alright... I guess. (laughs)

Have you ever played against her?
I've played against her, but I think she stopped about maybe six months ago.
She's busy with all of those English papers.

I know this is a touchy issue, but are you going back to St. Pat's? 
I don't know, I'm not sure, I don't want to comment on that. (laughs)

Can you talk about USA Basketball? You didn't make the team, but I read that Coach Showalter said that of all of the guys there, you had the highest potential long-term. What was it like going through that experience and what did you learn?

USA Basketball was a great experience. I enjoyed going out there and it took some time to learn what USA Basketball was all about. When I went out there, I understood what it was all about and what it would mean to make the team.

What did you guys do out there and can you touch on the bonding?
Well, mainly we had two sessions, the evening and afternoon, we did drills and had scrimmages. We ate in between and really just hung out.

I remember from a couple of years ago Kyle Anderson when he was your age, he was talking about how much of an adjustment it was dealing with the altitude being from the East Coast. He said it was so hard to breathe, he felt like he was going to pass out when he was running.
(laughs) That really didn't affect me that much.
Well, he's more of a guard.
Yeah, it really didn't affect me that much.

Alright, well, what's your relationship like with Jahlil Okafor? Do you view it as a friendly rivalry? You're two of the best players in the class. He said you've known one another since third grade.
No, Jahlil is a good player and we're very good friends. He used to play for the Arkansas Mustangs when we were younger. I've known him for a long time and we have a very good relationship.

I asked him about you and I figured I'd just do the same for you. Who's the toughest player that you've ever gone against?
So far, probably Andre Drummond.
I was actually at that game.
Oh, yeah, that was packed. You could barely get a seat (laughs), but, yeah, he was a very good player. 

I thought you played really well that day, so did he. Do you know Kyrie? Do you have any relationship with him? And what was your reaction when he was announced the #1 draft pick?
Oh, yeah, I know Kyrie. I've talked to him a few times. I'm happy that he's made it to the NBA.

Before you were talking about conditioning..what you are you doing to improve on it and what about explosion, too?
I've just been working out with my trainer and I stayed at his house for about two weeks and we did arms and legs.

It looks like it's paying dividends in your shoulders.
(laughs) Oh, yeah.
Is he in New Jersey?
Oh, yeah, he's in New Jersey. I just do a lot of weight training and a lot of leg work. 

Did you have a favorite school growing up? Not necessarily what you might like now..
In college? I liked Syracuse growing up because I liked Carmelo Anthony, my favorite NBA player. 

Now at the NBA level, what's your favorite team?
The New York Knicks.
Finally! Thank God, I finally found one guy.

Everybody's a Laker fan or whatever's easiest at the time. Do you like to be a big and have you embraced it? There are some guys that are like 7'1" and are sure that God intended them to be a shooting guard.
(laughs) No, I like being a big, you know, I played that role all my life, so...sometimes I'll hit a 15 footer, but I think I need to concentrate on my low-post skills.

Mr. Konchalski, for example, thought that it was very advanced of you that, at such an early age, you recognized what your bread and butter is, so to speak. You weren't trying to be something that you weren't. 
Yeah, that's not something I'm interested in.

What's your projected size?
My projected size is 7'2."

Wow. Do you have any hard offers yet?
Yeah, Georgetown and Xavier offered me. Those are the two that offered me.
I'm sure that there'll be plenty.
(laughs) Yeah, I haven't really taken any more visits yet. This summer at the beginning of August I'll take some more visits.

And who will be on the trip with you?
Probably my mom or someone else. I'm not really sure yet. We haven't set any dates yet, but I know I'm going.

How have you enjoyed your experience at LeBron?
So far, I've enjoyed it a a lot even though the last few games I'm not going to play because of my ankle. I'm going to see if I can go to a medical doctor. 

What happened? I saw you on the ground. It looked like a tower going down.
(laughs) I went to the basket and someone took a charge down low and I just fell on it.

Thanks a lot, Dakari
Oh, sure, thank you.[/private]

USA holds on to defeat Spain behind Durant

The 2010 USA Men’s World Championship Team fought through adversity,  fended off a second half attack and edged host and defending world champion Spain 86-85 on Sunday night inside the Magic Box in Madrid, Spain. Playing in a raucous stadium filled to its 10,960 capacity, the USA’s charge was led by Player of the Game Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), who posted game-highs of 25 points and 10 boards, and also had a pair of key blocks in the closing seconds.

Also in double digits were Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls), who scored 13 points, including the game’s final two points from the line; Lamar Odom (Los Angeles Lakers) notched 12 points and nine boards; and Chauncey Billups (Denver Nuggets) tossed in 10 points.

“This is something I’m never going to forget … never,” said Rose.

“I got to hit them,” he recalled about what he was thinking during his game-clinching free throws. “As your legacy goes on or the way you want your legacy to finally end, this is something that some people are going to remember.”

The U.S., now 3-0 in its three exhibition games, will travel to Athens tomorrow to prepare for its final exhibition game against Greece on Aug. 25 at 7:00 p.m. local (12:00 p.m. EDT live on ESPN).

“Great crowd, two excellent teams playing their hearts out and we felt fortunate to win. We made one more play then they did and that’s how good the game was,” said USA and Duke University head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “We were trying to learn about our younger players so we started a different lineup.

“Before we talk about the outside (players), Lamar Odom should be our starting center. He’s finally into shape I think to play at this level. Curry has been out so we wanted to give him a chance and we already know what Rondo and Granger can do, and Love was out. The doctor wanted to keep him out because of hitting his head and because it’s back-to-back, so that was a precaution. That was our plan tonight, just to take a better look at our team.”

Trailing since the first basket of the game, Spain took its first lead of the night, 82-80, with under two minutes to play on a Felipe Reyes layup. Durant countered to knot the score 17 seconds later and after Ricky Rubio tossed the ball away the U.S. had a shot to pull ahead again, but Odom’s 3-pointer was off the mark and Spain had the ball back.

However Reyes missed his next attempt and Odom secured the rebound. With seven seconds left on the shot clock and 32.99 seconds to play in the game, Rose nailed a driving bucket and the U.S. was back in the lead, 84-82.

Following a Spanish time out, Juan Carlos Navarro was fouled driving to the hoop. He converted on the 3-point play to give his side the lead once again with 27.82 ticks on the clock.

Rose shook off a determined defensive effort by Rubio and was fouled as he drove to the basket. Ignoring the deafening roar of the crowd, he calmly stepped to the line and swished both his attempts with 16.92 to go.

“He made two big free throws and like I told him after the game, those were really big confidence-wise for him and the rest of the team to know that we got a guy we can go to down the stretch,” said Andre Igoudala (Philadelphia 76ers).

Spain again called time, which enabled the hosts to advance the ball to half court.

“We’ve practiced a lot with the zone and we used zone on all under out of bounds which were good. Then from the timeout Jim Boeheim said let’s go orange” said Krzyzewski on what the plan was out of the final time out. “We call it orange with respect for Jim, he said he doesn’t have any buildings named after him in Syracuse so we’ll name the zone after him. I agreed with him, but it was his suggestion and the guys did a good job with it.”

After inbounding the ball, the Spaniards moved the ball around and finally Rubio found room to attempt a 3-point attempt. However, there wasn’t enoughspace as Durant partially deflected the shot. The rebound was bobbled around and Spain came up with it, but Durant was again there to block Rudy Fernandez’ 3-point attempt and the clock expired with the U.S. collecting its third victory in as many exhibition games.

“I just wanted to cover a much ground as I could and help my teammates out,” said Durant about the game’s final possession. “I saw Ricky Rubio open in the corner and I just wanted to use my length to get out there and tip the shot. I was able to get a finger on it and I had the ball and it kind of slipped out of my hand and Rubio got it back and threw it to Fernandez and I just didn’t want to jump and get a foul on a 3-point shot so I stayed down and kind of timed it pretty well and I was fortunate enough to get a block and the game was over. I just wanted to do something to help my team win.”

The USA, which opened up a 16-3 gap to start the game, held a 45-33 lead at the midway break.

Spain charged out of the locker room and in addition to hitting 6-of-7 from the line, knocked down a couple of threes and in the span of almost five minutes, to close the gap to 55-53.

The U.S. came back to life. Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder) scored to start the USA on 8-1 run that was capped by consecutive baskets from Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors) that left the Americas holding a 63-54 lead. After a pair of Spain baskets, the Americans closed the third quarter’s final 1:05 with a 6-0 spurt to open a double-digit, 69-58, lead with 10 minutes to play.

Plagued by fouls most of the game, the U.S. picked up three quick ones in the first 1:12 of the fourth quarter. Trying to stay out of the bonus and keep Spain off the line, the USA’s defense sagged and Spain battled its way back into the game as the hosts outscored the red, white and blue 20-11 over the opening seven minutes in the fourth and then tied the game at 80-all with  2:37 to play.

The USA had a much better shooting night against Spain than Saturday night’s contest against Lithuania, hitting 48.5 percent (33-68 FGs) from the field, while holding Spain to 41.8 percent (28-67 FGs). However, the U.S., which owned the glass 39-27, sent Spain to the line for 29 attempts and the hosts converted on 24 (.828). In contrast, the American men made 14-of-18 from the line (.778).

Spain was led by Navarro’s 20 points, Marc Gasol had 17, Reyes tossed in 16 off the bench.

“It was a tough game. On their home court. We just fought through adversity and came out with a win,” said Westbrook.

“First off it was a fun game, one of those games that was a learning experience for us, coming over here and playing one of the best teams in the world,” stated Durant.  “I think we made key plays down the stretch and we also played together as a team and stuck together through tough times. So it was a good test for us.”

The 2010 USA World Championship Team assistant coaches are Syracuse University’s Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, Portland Trail Blazers head coach Nate McMillan and Toronto Raptors head mentor Jay Triano.

All four of the USA’s pre-World Championship friendlies are part of the new Global Community Cup, which will include all USA Basketball exhibition games played outside of formal international competitions.  Along with the games, the Global Community Cup features a social responsibility element that will highlight USA Basketball’s commitment to giving back to communities in the U.S. and abroad.

The official 12-man USA roster that will compete in the 2010 FIBA World Championship, which will be played Aug. 28-Sept. 12 in Turkey, must be submitted to FIBA at the technical meeting that normally is held the day prior to the start of the competition.

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USA Basketball is Gold

USA Basketball has been Gold this summer. Gold as in winning the Gold Medal at the FIBA U17 World Championship in Hamburg, Germany, and at the FIBA Americas U18 tournament which was held in San Antonio, TX.

The USA U17 team went a perfect 8-0 in Hamburg wrapping up the Gold Medal, on July 11th, with a convincing 111-80 victory over Poland who finished the tournament with a 7-1 record and the Silver Medal. Canada defeated Lithuania, 83-81, in the Bronze Medal game.

USA advanced to the Gold Medal game by defeating Canada, 103-83, in the semi-finals, and Australia, 105-70, in the quarter-finals. Team USA won their eight games by an average margin of 34 points. They defeated Argentina, Lithuania, China, Egypt, and Serbia in preliminary round play.

Brad Beal, who has verbally committed to play college basketball at Florida, and James McAdoo, who has verbally committed to North Carolina, were named to the All-Tournament team. Beal was the team's leading scorer averaging 18.25 points per game. McAdoo averaged 14.5 points and led the team in rebounding with 7.9 per game. Point guard Quinn Cook led the tournament in assists with 7.4 per game.

By winning the FIBA Americas U18 tournament in San Antonio, the USA was one of four teams to qualify to compete in next year's U19 World Championship, which will be held in Latvia. USA U18 team won the Gold Medal with a hard fought 81-78 victory over Brazil, on June 30th, to finish the competition with a perfect 5-0 record. Quincy Miller hit a decisive 3-point shot late in the game to seal the come from behind victory for Team USA. Canada defeated Argentina, 86-83, to win the Bronze Medal.

They qualified for the championship game by defeating Canada 122-89 in the semi-finals. In the preliminary round, USA defeated the U.S. Virgin Islands, 131-63; Mexico, 114-38; and Argentina, 88-67.

Austin Rivers led the team in scoring with 20.2 points per game. Quincy Miller (14), Kyrie Irving (13.8), and Jereme Richmond (10.8) also averaged in double figures. Miller was the team's leading rebounder with 9.2 per game, while Irving led the team in assists with 4.2 per game. Miller and Rivers are undecided on their college destination, while Richmond will play at Illinois and Irving at Duke.

US U17 rolls past Lithuania 102-66

Quinn Cook stars for the USA U-17 team - BDN Photo

Despite tipoff coming 30 minutes after 12 noon, it was early lights out for Lithuania (1-1) as the USA Men’s U17 Team (2-0) ran over, around and through Lithuania Saturday and in the process collected a very impressive 102-66 victory in preliminary round play at the inaugural FIBA U17 World Championship in Hamburg, Germany.

It was the second meeting between the two squads in four days and nothing like the USA’s previous 92-79 victory over Lithuania that came in an exhibition contest held June 29 in Kaunas, Lithuania.

“We came in here with the mindset that we had played them before so we definitely knew what to expect. We came in focused as a team and all 12 guys on the team contributed,” commented 6-8 USA forward James McAdoo (Norfolk Christian H.S. / Norfolk, Va.). “We definitely all played together today. Yesterday we kind of got away from what our mindset was but we got the win, so we came in here today with good focus.”\

Balanced scoring by the Americans was underscored as all 12 players scored at least four points, the team collectively was credited with handing out 27 assists, seven players had at one assist. The U.S. shot a sizzling 56.1 percent from the field, and outrebounded Lithuania 46-36.

About the only flaw in the USA’s dominating performance Saturday was its 25 turnover, nine of which came in the last 10 minutes when the USA lead was floating between 40-50 points.

“It’s awesome,” McAdoo stated about the team’s high energy play. “I like to play up and down; I like to get up and down; I don’t like to post up as far as in the half court set. So when we’re able to get our defense cooking and were getting turnovers, we’re getting deflections, we’re getting blocked shots, that just really aids my game and you saw how that worked out today where I was able to get out on the fastbreak and get a lot of open shots and open dunks.”

Unlike the two team’s last meeting four days ago when Lithuania got out to a first quarter lead and the Americans spent the rest of the game getting back ahead and holding on to the lead, the U.S. struck quickly and with remarkable energy and precision.

Thanks to five points from Brad Beal (Chaminade College Prep H.S. / St. Louis, Mo.) and four more from McAdoo, the U.S. jumped out into the lead 11-3. With the scoreboard reading 11-6 in the USA’s favor, the Americans turned up the defensive intensity and the result was 10 consecutive points and an overall 21-7 scoring rampage over the opening quarter’s final 4:05 that left the USA fully in charge, 32-13.

At one point during the USA’s full in-your-face dominating play, Lithuania was forced into five consecutive turnovers that the U.S. converted into fastbreak points. For the afternoon, the U.S. recorded 38 points off the break.

“There were times when it seemed like they couldn’t really get into their offense, we were pressing up on them and putting a lot of ball pressure and that definitely helped,” stated McAdoo.

The USA’s energy never subsided and at halftime the U.S. lead stood at 56-31. The lead continued to balloon in the second half and the USA went on to lead by as many as 50 points before sailing in for the 102-66 victory.

McAdoo and Beal led the USA effort with 16 points each, and McAdoo added a U.S. best seven rebounds and three steals. André Drummond (St. Thomas More School / Middletown, Conn.) tallied 10 points and five boards, while Chasson Randle (Rock Island H.S. / Rock Island, Ill.) finished with 10 points on perfect 4-for-4 shooting. Quinn Cook (DeMatha H.S. / Bowie, Md.) accounted for nine points, six rebounds and game high eight assists, and Tony Wroten, Jr. (Garfield H.S. / Seattle, Wash.) contributed nine points in the win.

“Obviously we played pretty well today. Lithuania is a very good team. We had a practice game against them earlier and it was really a close game until a few minutes were left in the game. So we knew they were a good team. Our players were very well prepared mentally for this game. We started out the game with getting some turnovers and with our athletic ability and quickness; we started the game out like we wanted to,” USA U17 World Championship Team and Mid-Prairie High School (Iowa) head coach Don Showalter said. “We started off a little different with our press and I think that started the whole run for us. We have some really quick kids and when they can get their hands on balls, get deflections, that starts a run for us and I think we took them out of their offense a little but by having a full court press.”

Other Saturday results saw Argentina (1-1) handled Egypt (0-2) 98-69, while Canada (1-1) beat Australia (0-2) by a score of 76-68.

Following a day off that fittingly comes on Sunday, July 4, the USA will continue FIBA U17 World Championship preliminary play on July 5 facing China, then plays Egypt on July 6 and closes opening round play against Serbia on July 7. The top four finishing teams from each preliminary round group will advance to the July 9 medal quarterfinals, with semifinals games scheduled for July 10 and the gold and bronze medal games to be contested on July 11.

“Our focus is on China as they’re our next opponent,” said Showalter. “We know they are talented, they’re big, they’re strong, so we’re going to have to play well. Our goal is to get better every game and the teams that get better every game are the ones that are going to end up in the medal rounds.

“The nice thing is that if any of our players have a game where they’re not quite on we have players who can come in and spell them and really do well. One of the things I get asked a lot is ’how do you manage your team’s young egos, they’re all great players on their teams” and you know that’s pretty easy because they just want to win. They don’t care how it’s done, it’s not me it’s we on our team and I think they showed that today.”

Serving as assistant coaches for the 2009-10 USA Developmental National Team and 2010 USA U17 World Championship Team are Herman Harried, head coach at Lake Clifton High School (Md.), and Kevin Sutton, head coach at Montverde Academy (Fla.).

Irving helps lead USA to Gold

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In a game that went down to the wire, the USA Basketball Men’s U18 National Team (5-0) fought back to defeat Brazil (4-1) 81-78 and claim the FIBA Americas U18 Championship gold medal on Wednesday night at Bill Greehey Arena in San Antonio, Texas. Earlier in the night Canada (3-2) defeated Argentina (2-3) 86-83 in overtime to earn the bronze medal, Canada’s second bronze at the U18s.

Argentina, Brazil, Canada and the United States qualified for the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship, which will be held in Latvia.

Tonight marked the fifth (1990, 1994, 1998, 2006, 2010) U18 gold medal for the USA, the last coming in 2006. Argentina beat USA in 2008, in the tournament held in Formosa, Argentina.With the win, the U.S. upped its overall record to 38-2 at this event, and has also won five gold medals, one silver medal (2008) and one bronze medal (2002) at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship. It also marked the best finish for Brazil, which has captured three bronze medals at the U18 tournament.

“I was really proud of our guys with how we dealt with adversity,” said USA and University of Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel. “It’s the first time we have experienced it here and it knocked us back a little bit early. I thought we did a good job of getting off to a good start in the second half. Give them credit, that Brazil team they have been together and fought and they made plays. At one point, we were down eight and we could have put our heads down but these guys hung together. They showed some toughness, they showed some grit and we started to get some stops on the defensive end and some guys made some great plays offensively. Quincy hit a huge shot, he has shooter’s amnesia because the time before he took the shot and it was an air-ball. He has a lot of confidence in himself and really stepped up and made a huge shot for us.”

Brazil led 63-58 going into the fourth period. The North Americans went on a 16-5 scoring run and led 76-72 with 3:55 remaining. But Brazil was not finished, as Felipe Taddei hit a 3-pointer, as the team closed to 76-75. The USA’s Pat Young (Providence School / Jacksonville, Fla.) hit two free throws at 2:51, and the American squad led 78-75. With a tick over 40 seconds on the clock, Brazil’s Raul Neto tied the score at 78-78 with a 3-point bucket. The finale came with 25 seconds to go, as Quincy Miller (Quality Education Academy / Winston-Salem, N.C.) fired up a 3-pointer, which turned out to be the game-winner.

“Well, coach just told me to shoot it, even though my last one was an air ball,” said Miller. “Coach told me to shoot it, so I shot it. I had faith in myself and I made it.”

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Rivers leads USA past Canada

In a record-setting night, the USA U18 National Team (4-0) earned a berth in the gold medal game with a 122-89 semifinal victory over Canada (2-2) Tuesday night at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship for Men at Bill Greehey Arena in San Antonio, Texas.

“That’s the goal and that’s what we came here for,” said USA and University of Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel. “Not trying to sound conceited, but we expected to be in this position and this is what we’ve worked for. We’ve been together for three weeks and we’ve worked for this moment. Hopefully, we can come out and seize the opportunity tomorrow.”

Austin Rivers (Winter Park H.S. / Winter Park, Fla.) poured in a game-high 35 points for the USA, shooting 12-of-18 from the field and sinking 9-of-12 in 3-point range, establishing new U.S. records at the U18 tournament. His 35 points broke the former record of 34 set by Calbert Cheaney versus Brazil in 1990, the first FIBA Americas U18 Championship. His nine 3-pointers made surpassed three different players who had previously sunk five 3-pointers in a single game, Aaron Brooks (2002), Terry Dehere (1990) and Steve Lepore (1998).

“Sometimes I just get in grooves where I hit a couple shots,” said Rivers. “You feel like the basket’s real wide. I know I hit a couple shots and then everything started going from there. After that it felt like any shot I threw up would go in, so it’s kind of like a lot of adrenaline. It felt like I had ultimate energy. Everything was falling.”

Additionally, the team set a new single-game record at this event with 14 made 3-point field goals, breaking the previous record that was set in 2002, and tied in 2008 and again in the USA’s first contest this year.

“I thought we played well,” added Capel. “We did a good job defensively early. I thought our guys respected Canada and we knew they were a very good team. We came out and jumped on them early. I thought we did it with our defense. One of the things was a huge key for us was (Kyle) Wiltjer. He’s their leading scorer and we wanted to try to take him out of the game. We did a very, very good job of that. He was shooting about 68 percent from three coming into this game. One of our main goals was to not even let him get a 3-point attempt and our guys did a good job of following through on that.”

The U.S. squad will meet also undefeated Brazil (4-0) for the gold medal at 7:00 p.m. (all times CDT) Wednesday. Brazil upended defending gold medalist Argentina (2-2) 70-56 in the other semifinal game. Argentina and Canada will play for the bronze medal at 5:00 p.m. All four teams earlier qualified for the 2011 U19 World Championships in Latvia.

With the win, the U.S. upped its overall record to 37-2 at this event, which is a qualifying tournament for the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship, and has won four gold medals (1990, 1994, 1998, 2006), one silver medal (2008) and one bronze medal (2002) at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship.

Tony Mitchell (L.G. Pinkston H.S. / Dallas, Texas), who is headed to Missouri, added 13 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Kyrie Irving (St. Patrick’s H.S. / Elizabeth, N.J.), a Duke signee, contributed 12 points and seven assists. Jereme Richmond (Waukegan H.S. / Waukegan, Ill.), who will play for Illinois next year, scored 11 points. Josh Hairston (Montrose Christian School (Md.) / Fredericksburg, Va.), a future Duke player, rounded out the double-figure players with 10 points.

The red, white and blue, which has trailed for a total of 1:24 through four games, led wire-to-wire against Canada. Appropriately, Rivers got the scoring started with a 3-pointer 52 seconds into the game. By the 3:33 mark the U.S. was up 22-2 and at 2:51 Canada scored its first field goal of the night.

“I love it. I love it,” stated Capel on Rivers’ performance. “It’s just really neat to watch him go through that. Really, the best part about it was watching his teammates. Seeing how excited they are. These are some of his peers, some guys that are a little bit older than him, but just seeing how excited they were for him was really pretty neat.”

Rivers tied the former U.S. 3-point record with his fifth trey to close the first quarter scoring and put the U.S. up 37-10. Less than two minutes into the second quarter, Rivers, who was perfect from beyond the arc in his first nine attempts, had the record with his sixth made three.

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