By TRENTON MILLER, USA BasketballAn eventful Sunday for USA Basketball began in the early afternoon at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as 27 of the country’s top 19-and-under men’s basketball athletes arrived for the first day of the 2017 USA U19 World Cup Team training camp.
University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who is serving as the head coach of the USA U19 team, is assisted by University of Colorado coach Tad Boyle and Wake Forest University coach Danny Manning.
The trio reunite after more than 30 years, when Calipari was an assistant coach at the University of Kansas (1982-85), while Boyle (1981-85) and Manning (1984-88) were on the floor as Jayhawks.
“When I coached Tad and Danny, I was 24 or 25 years old. But, we’ve all stayed in touch,” said Calipari.
“They were great to coach, and they treated me with respect when they didn’t have to – I was like the fifth man on the totem pole. They’ve grown into great coaches, and they are just good people. I’m excited to learn from and travel with them.”
Calipari, who recently completed his eighth season at the helm of the Wildcats, where he boasts a 249-53 overall record (.825 winning percentage), makes a long-awaited return to the USA Basketball sideline. In 1995, he guided the U.S. Olympic Festival East Team to a silver medal. The feeling being back at training camp is a bit of everything, he said.
“I’m kind of anxious more than excited, because I just want to see where the players are, what they are, those kinds of things,” explained Calipari. “I want it to be a great experience for these kids and for everybody involved. I want people to leave and say, ‘You know what, this was a great experience, and I was able to figure out where I am and what I need to work on.’
“The hard thing is, you can’t try to do too much. You have to scrimmage more than you normally would. You have to run offense more than you run drills. You have to hope they are in shape. If they aren’t in shape, they probably won’t make the team, because we don’t have time to get them in shape. And then, you’re trying to piece a real team together and not just take the best guys.”
The talent pool is widespread, featuring 13 athletes who recently completed their freshman season in college, not including Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky/Queens, N.Y.), who redshirted this year for the Wildcats. Seven training camp participants are NCAA bound, and six athletes will set out on their senior year of high school.
The first athlete arrivals – Desmond Bane (TCU/Richmond, Ind.), Marques Bolden (Duke/DeSoto, Texas), Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech/Snellville, Ga.) and Payton Pritchard (Oregon/West Linn, Ore.) – rolled into the gym of just after 1 p.m. (MDT).
All have different backgrounds with USA Basketball, but each athlete is equally eager for the week of competition.
Bane, who averaged 7.1 points and 2.9 rebounds per game for the Horned Frogs in 2016-17, embarks on his first training camp with USA Basketball.
“An opportunity like this is a lifetime dream,” said Bane, whose class size at Seton Catholic High School in Richmond, Indiana, included about 20 students. “I’m blessed to be selected to compete at this camp, and I’m ready to get after it.
“This is going to be good for me to see where I’m at. These are the top players in the country at U19. I’ve never been to any big camps like this, so it should be good for me to experience this.”
Okogie averaged a team-best 16.1 ppg. along with 5.4 rpg. for the Yellow Jackets in his freshman season, en route to being named to the 2017 Atlantic Coast Conference All-Freshman Team. Like Bane, he’s made his first venture to Colorado Springs with USA Basketball.
“Every kind of emotion is going through me right now, but mostly, I’m just blessed to be here with all this great talent,” said Okogie. “I’ve played against quite a few of these guys, and I’ve seen them on TV.
“All of us are in this same age group, and we’ve seen each other play. We know who the others are, and now we get to meet again and play in one place. I’m looking forward to having fun and competing for a spot.”
Bolden and Pritchard are in a different boat, having recent USA Basketball experience as they were members of the 2016 USA Junior National Select Team that claimed a 101-67 victory in the Nike Hoop Summit.
Pritchard returns to the USOTC for the first time since 2015, when he and fellow U19 training camp participant PJ Washington (Findlay Prep/Las Vegas, Nev.), took home the 2015 USA Basketball 3×3 U18 National Tournament title.
“It’s great to be back here in Colorado Springs with USA Basketball,” Pritchard said, who drained 200 jumpers before he took off for lunch. “Having been here, you know what it takes and that you need to be a leader. You need to be professional and help the younger guys, too.”
One of those “younger guys” is Chaundee Brown (First Academy/Orlando, Fla.). The Wake Forest University signee is making his second trip to a USA Basketball training camp. Brown participated in the 2016 USA U18 National Team training camp.
“I don’t think that age really matters,” said Brown, who is a Wake Forest University signee, and is at the USOTC for a second time, after competing at the 2016 USA U18 National Team training camp.
“We’re all basketball players out here. And, we’re all around the same age, so I think this should be a great experience. I’m excited to learn from coach Manning and coaches Calipari and Boyle. I want to pick things up and add to my game here.”
Whether Brown claims a spot on the 12-member USA U19 World Cup Team roster, USA U19 assistant and Wake Forest head coach, Manning, will be on his sideline one way or another.
“He told me to just come out here and play hard, play defense and be a dog.”
Training camp continues through Thursday, June 22, when the 2017 USA Men’s U19 World Cup Team is expected to be announced. The team will practice in Colorado Springs ahead of the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup, which will be played July 1-9 in Cairo, Egypt.