Tag 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. 

[private]
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.
(laughs)
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. 
Wow.
(laughs)
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.
(laughs)

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.
(laughs)

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]

Jahlil Okafor BDN Photo

Jahlil Okafor: Focused and Friendly Chicagoland Big Man

Jahlil Okafor BDN Photo

“For of those to whom much is given, much is required”
-President John F. Kennedy

Jahlil Okafor is a 6’10” rising sophomore from the North Side of Chicago. In the Gold Medal game of the 16U FIBA Americas, the fifteen year-old was perfect from the floor and finished with eighteen points and fourteen rebounds against Argentina. This was the culmination of months of preparation. Okafor had spent countless hours refining his low-post skills and shedding some baby fat in order to be able to both make the final cut and ultimately contribute to the USA 16s team.

Although one of the youngest members of the team, Jahlil wound up finishing second on the team in rebounds (9.2 rpg) and third in points (14.6 ppg), while leading the team in shooting, both free throw (82.6%) and field goal (71%). His Mac Irvin teammate and friend, FIBA Americas MVP Jabari Parker, was on hand to celebrate the moment with him on the court in Mexico.

Okafor had a solid freshman year on the varsity team at Whitney Young, a magnet school that is the alma mater of First Lady Michelle Obama, the NBA veteran Quentin Richardson, and the directors of the Matrix, the Wachowski brothers. Jahlil was reportedly offered a scholarship to DePaul as an eighth grader at Rosemont Elementary School by their former interim coach, Tracy Webster. Since then, Okafor, a passionate Bulls fan, has received college scholarship offers from high-major programs across the country.

In late May, the decision was made to advance the fifteen year-old Jahlil to Mac Irvin’s 17U team in order to give more of a post presence for Nike’s EYBL wing in Los Angeles. Like a duck taking to water, he was a natural in his game against the physical 6’8″ senior Elijah Macon and All-Ohio Red. His advanced footwork, size, and developing low-post game have helped him hold his own against significantly older players at the LeBron James Skills Academy and the Peach Jam.

After losing his mother in the third grade, the focused and gregarious big man has been raised by his father Chukwudi “Chuck” Okafor and helped out by his aunt, Dr. Chinyere Okafor-Conley, an assistant principal at Penn Elementary School in Chicago. Education is a major point of emphasis in the family and was the primary factor in Jahlil’s decision to select the academically challenging school, Whitney Young.

At various Nike EYBL events throughout this AAU season and at the recent LeBron James Skills Academy, Jahlil spoke with Blue Devil Nation.

What was it like playing LeBron James?
It was a great experience. I’ve been watching LeBron since I was a little kid. It was a really cool experience to be able to play with him. I couldn’t believe I was on his team. I got to play with LeBron and Jabari Parker was on my team, too, so that was good.

What were your hopes for USA Basketball and how did you prepare?
I couldn’t wait. That was like my hope for the whole year. That’s like all I was thinking about every time I’d work out, you know. Just getting ready for the USA team. It’s been very important to me. I wanted to represent for the US and be a part of it.

How was your USA Basketball experience?
It was a lot of talent and we pretty much knew everybody. It was fun to come together though. We were together for a few weeks.

Can you talk about training camp, making the team, and that whole experience?
It was very intense. It was pretty hard. There were a lot of emotions. We pretty much had to fight through it. When I finally made the team, I was just so excited. I was really happy. I called my dad first to tell him about it. It was very emotional. When I made the cut, I was really happy.
[private]

Yeah, I was really happy for you when I saw your name was on the list.
Thank you, thank you.

What was it like when you finally won the Gold Medal?
It was just great. We were practicing for, like, two and a half weeks and we kept trying to focus on getting that gold medal. We’d end every practice talking about it. It was even better than we expected.

And you guys were bonding.
Yeah, that was great. We became real close.

Where did you put the Gold Medal, by the way?
(laughs) Well, right now, I think it’s in my room, but it’s going to get framed.
That’ll be really nice.
Yeah.

How have you enjoyed the experience of playing with Jabari, both for Mac Irvin and on the USA team? He’s been tremendous on the AAU and camp circuit. Then, he won the FIBA MVP down in Mexico.
Playing with Jabari is great. He makes the game a lot easier. He’s a great scorer and a lot of people don’t know this, but he’s also a great passer. He makes it so easy for you on the break. He’s got great court vision.

He’s so versatile, too.
Yeah, he is.

Do you feel you’ve grown as a person, travelling abroad with USA Basketball and experiencing what you have?
Oh, yeah, I think I’ve gotten way more mature. My leadership is definitely better. I’m talking more with people out on the court in general.

What did you see when you went down to Mexico? Did you get to see any of the country or did you not have an opportunity?
I saw Chichen Itza.

Oh, yeah, Jabari mentioned that, too. He thought it was the highlight for him.
Yeah, it was for me too off the court, but other than that, we didn’t get to see too much off the court. We mostly concentrated on basketball.

What part of Chicago are you from, by the way?
Oh, I’m from the North Side. Yeah, I’m a North Side guy.

When you’re playing in front of coaches, what kind of emotions go through you? Are you excited? Nervous?
Well, playing in front of coaches is not too big for me. I try not to get too emotional one way or the other. I’ve been doing this for a number of years. I try not to get affected by it too much. I feel like I pretty much know that it’s just basketball. I’ve just got to go out there and perform.

What are you trying to show college coaches this summer?
Mostly, I want to show them that I can post up and that I’m one of the more dominant big men in the country.

For those that may not know, what’s your current size?
I’m 6’10” right now and about 250 to 255.

What are you projected to be?
Oh, 7’2.”

What position do you like to play?
Well, I’m more of a four, but I can play the four and the five.

You feel that you’re more of a natural four.
Yeah, I like the four more because they let move around a little more.
You’ve got pretty good footwork for a guy your size and age.
Yeah, thanks.

What about the experience playing now with the seventeens for Mac Irvin? How much of a jump do you feel it’s been from the other age brackets?
Oh, yeah, it’s totally different. I’m fifteen now and I was playing the 16s, but this is at a completely other level. It’s so much faster and guys are stronger down low.
I was going to check you out in Dallas, but you were playing with the 16s in a different area.
Oh, yeah. I played well, but, with the 17s, everything is much faster and you can’t take any plays off. You have to sprint every time.

You play in a great high school league in Chicago, but how does that compare with what you’ve faced today?
I think playing 17s in AAU is harder than high school because, in AAU, it’s like all of the players are really good at their high school instead of facing just one or two.

What kind of an adjustment did you have to make when you were promoted to the 17s?
Not that much. My coach just said to make my game faster. So, I tried to step up and do that.

What so view as your strengths right now?
My strengths are being able to post up, but I can face up..My body, my height, and my actual strength..I can take a lot.
It looks like you have the frame to really hold a lot of muscle.
Yeah, I think so.

What do you consider your weakness?
My weaknesses are probably staying in shape. I always need to stay on top of that.

How do you try to combat that? How do you plan on staying in shape during the downtimes this summer?
I was playing with the Olympic team this summer. I tried to get my body in shape before we headed down there.

Are you going on treadmills? Running? Spinning?
I’ve got two trainers. One works on my basketball skills and the other one works on my core and my flexibility.

That’s a good approach. Who’s recruiting you at this point? Are there any new schools that have expressed interest in you that haven’t offered yet? I have to make sure I cover my bases.
Oh yeah, sure, I understand.My scholarship offers are from Illinois, DePaul, Michigan State, and Arkansas. Ohio State just offered me. I’ve talked to UConn, Georgetown, Syracuse, and North Carolina… and Kansas. I’m supposed to take a visit there, but I’m not sure when. And Syracuse has shown an interest.

Has Duke recruited you at all yet?
No, not yet.

Is distance going to be a factor for you?
Oh, no, no. I’ll go anywhere. It doesn’t matter to me.

Have you taken any visits recently or do you have any plans other than Kansas?
I’m supposed to visit Ohio State, Illinois, and Kansas before the end of summer.

What are your goals next year for Whitney Young?
Our only goal next season is to simply win the state championship. Last year, we lost in the sectionals to Farragut and that was disappointing.
We’ll forget about that.
(laughs)

What are your goals for this summer?
My main goal was to make the final cut for the Olympic team. That was my number one priority. After that, my next goal is to help us win the Peach Jam.
Well, I think you’ve got a shot at both of those things.
Yes, sir.

Can you talk about playing with some of your high school teammates on your AAU team?
Oh, yeah, it’s great to play with guys like Jermaine Morgan, Thomas Hamilton, and Derrick Randolph. Those three guys really help me out a lot.

Who are you closest to?
Jermaine Morgan and Thomas Hamilton. Those two are like my two older brothers.

How did you choose Whitney Young?
Well, in seventh grade, before I knew they even had a good basketball team, I knew I wanted to go there because of the academics.

I’m from New York, but I know that Whitney Young’s a magnet school academically.
Yeah, even if the basketball team wasn’t any good, I would’ve gone there regardless.

That’s interesting. Are you a good student or pretty good?
Yeah, I’m pretty good.

What type of style of play do you think best suits you?
It doesn’t matter, but I think I’m a little more effective if we can slow it down a bit and let me post up.

Do you have a go-to move at this point?
I usually spin a lot and sometimes it works. (laughs)

Are you able to work out at all between these AAU events to work on skill development?
Yeah, I definitely try to get it in. I’ve had to miss some AAU practices cause I feel like I can grow more if I work out individually with a trainer. I feel like it benefits me sometimes more.

Is there a guy that you try to model your game after?
Jared Sullinger.

Did you have a dream school growing up?
No, I didn’t.

What about an NBA team?
Oh, definitely, the Bulls. The Chicago Bulls..I love them.

How’d you feel about their year this year?
Well, I think they surprised a lot of people. I mean nobody expected Derrick Rose to be MVP. I mean nobody expected them to be in the conference finals and so they accomplished that and I think they have a great future.

I think they’ve got a good shot over the next couple of years, if things break right.
Yeah, so do I.

Do you know Theo Pinson pretty well now?
Oh, yeah, definitely.

How would you assess your defense at this point?
I feel I’m playing pretty well on defense at this point. I like my effort and I guess, for the most part, the results. I’m definitely trying out there.

Can you give a scouting report on Jabari Parker? You’ve played with him in AAU and against him in high school. What’s the best defense against him?
Well, in the past, I would’ve said to make him shoot, but he’s improved so much in the last year. I think he’s one of the most unguardable players out here. I mean he’s been a great teammate, but he’s really stepped up his game and his body. He can beat you inside with his moves or athleticism and now outside with size and shooting. He can really run the court.

Are you related to Emeka Okafor?
Yeah, distant.

For your big decisions in life, who do you turn to for guidance?
Probably my dad and my high school coaches.

Is your dad here?
Yeah.

Can you talk about the rise of Chicago? A lot of people are talking about the rise of Chicago for the 2013 and 2014 classes on a national scale.
We have a bunch of players coming out, yeah. I think our top two players are also top ten in the country. 2013 class is very good to with Jabari Parker, Thomas Hamilton, and Kendrick Nunn. Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn are two of the best players in the state and they’re both going to be playing for USA. We have four players from Chicago on the USA team.

Is one of your goals to eventually be the #1 player in your class?
Oh, yeah, definitely. I want to try to be that.

Who are some people that you’re close with nationally that people might be surprised about?
Right, I’m really friends with Theo Pinson. Do you know him?
Yeah, and I like his dad, too.
Oh yeah, he’s real cool. I’m real cool with Theo and Ishmail Wainright. I’m also close with Dakari Johnson.

Going forward with Dakari (Johnson), is it friendly or is it a rivalry?
Well, I consider it both. We’ve known each other since about third grade.

Well, you two are two of the best players and big men in your class.
Yeah, they naturally compare us. It’s a friendly rivalry.

Who’s going to be your toughest competition next year in high school?
I’ve got to say Simeon. They’re going to be tough. They’re loaded.

How did you guys do against them this year?

We went 1-1. The first game they beat us, the second game we beat them at the end. The first game we played them at DePaul and the second game we played them right around where we’re from.

Who’s the best player you’ve faced?
Well, LeBron, but..

Alright, other than LeBron?
Oh, then Thomas Hamilton.

Oh, Tommy Hamilton. What do you feel you’ve gained this summer through your various experiences that you can bring to Whitney Young?
First of all, my condition is really better.
Yeah, I saw you running the court out there a lot better than you did in the past.
Yeah, I’m also more of a vocal leader now and also my defense is better.

Are you guys going to be on TV this year so people can catch you?
Yeah, we’ve actually got a couple of games on TV, not sure when though.

What would you like the audience to know about you away from the court?
I’m just a humble guy. Modest…very modest. That’s it.

Thanks a lot, Jahlil, and good luck.
Sure, thank you. [/private]

BDN took this shot when Collins returned from China after Team USA won the gold medal.  Since that time he has been a part of a national championship and now another gold where Team USA defeated Turkey in Istanbul.  Coach Collins took time to sit down with BDN for a few questions of his experience.  BDN Photo

BDN Interview – Chris Collins talks Team USA, Coach K, Durant and more

DURHAM –  BDN sat down with Duke Assistant Coach Chris Collins upon his return from Istanbul where the United States reclaimed the top spot in the FIBA world rankings.  Collins talks a bit about his experiences, Kevin Durrant, Coach K and how the team came together as time progressed.

Well, you guys did it again!  A Gold Medal, National Championship and a another Gold Medal all in consecutive fashion is pretty impressive.  The team came together to beat Turkey and several other good  teams along the way.  It had to be a great experience.

To go over there and win in an international competition, one we haven’t in a number years was a great accomplishment.  This was a different challenge than the Olympics where as a lot of guys decided not to play.   And we had some injuries early on as well.  We lost a number of the big men we expected to have and picked a group of guys who we thought would gel together.  They were hungry and anxious  to represent our country  and what was cool is how you saw us continue to get batter as the tournament went on.  Guys got more familiar with each other, they got better, roles were developed and to win those last couple of games and have the Gold Medal game against Turkey in Istanbul was awesome.  I was just amazed at the job Coach K did, he was at his best again.

I noticed he was up off the bench coaching a lot.

Well, he had to.  We had a young group so he needed to have that fire and passion and that’s what is great about him in that he knows what this team needs.  He needed to be animated and emotional and he did a good job getting these guys to come together for the gold.

Does it insult you a bit when some refer to this as the “B” team?

Yeah, I mean, I understand where it’s coming from because we would have loved to have had some of the guys from the Olympics.  But when you talk about a “B” team they were still pretty good and we used that to our advantage.  Those guys, they had a chip on their shoulder.  They knew they were good players and they went out and showed it. Any naysayers or people predicting other teams to win, well, we talked about it and used it to our advantage.

Photo courtesy of MVN

Can you talk a bit about the play of Kevin Durant?

He’s a special player, but he’s as good a person.  There is no baggage with him there is no hoopla, he’s just a young guy who wants to get better and win.  Late at night even after games he would go to the gym and just work on his shot.  To see what he can do at such a young age is knowing he can go down as one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

From afar, Coach K seemed to really bond with him [Durant], as if he told him you cannot be stopped.

Yeah.  As we put the team together everybody knew from day one he had to be the man.  Especially offensively but early on he wanted to share the ball and get it to others.  But a combination of Coach K and the older guys on the team like Lamar Odom and Chancey Billups told him you need to be the guy and that we are going to go to you and go through you.  That allowed him the confidence to just be himself and stay lose and what he did was amazing.

How about the play of Andre Igoudala?  That had to please your Dad.

Yeah.  It was fun to watch him play and he will of course play for my Dad in Philadelphia.  He’s a guy on the Sixers who will take a lot of shots and score.  But on this team he was the defensive stopper and he relished the role and sacrificed for the team.  He was a glue guy with rebounds and steals.  He made a lot of little plays which helped us win.

If you follow Duke, Team USA looked like Duke in the end.

A lot of our defensive principles were the things we teach here at Duke.  It took a lot of practice because in the NBA they have different rules with illegal defenses.  It took a lot of practice and reps to gain the habits defensively.  We knew we would be smaller so we had to win with our quickness and so we really pressured the ball and those are staples of how we play here at Duke.  So, yes, I would say it is was similar in how we play at Duke.

When you guys returned to Durham did the current Duke players want to talk about your experience and what happened?

Oh, yeah.  Oh yeah.  All young players aspire and want to be pros.  I think we’ve created a situation, Coach K and Mr. Conlangelo have created a situation where the excitement to play for your country again is at an all time high.  It wasn’t as cool to play for the USA a few years ago but you are now seeing pride in all age groups and they want to play for their country.  That is what is important here in that the pros and younger kids want to play for Team USA and represent their country.

At one time there was a ridiculous notion that Krzyzewski coaching Team USA would hurt Duke and basketball recruiting. Can you talk about how silly that notion was, especially in hindsight?

[laughs] Well, we don’t pay any attention to that.  I mean we didn’t miss anything.  You may miss a little of the open period in July but all the guys know what he is doing.  He is coaching the pro guys.  He’s coaching Kevin Durant, he’s coaching LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.  We learn so much from those guys so when we talk to recruits or our own players we say this is what we learned from a Kevin Durrant sharing that with them.  Young players see just what kind and how good of a coach —  Coach K is.

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.

For photo’s and additional coverage visit USABasketball.com

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.).