Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- His increased role and profile in USA Basketball is something Billy Donovan takes very seriously.
It’s also something he absolutely loves.
“Being able to coach basketball, talk basketball, meet with these coaches and talk about different situations and philosophies, it’s just great,” Donovan said this week. “You’re starting a team basically from scratch then taking these guys into a competitive situation to represent the United States. And it’s serious basketball.”
A whirlwind process, too.
Last week, Donovan did a teleconference with some European media in advance of the U19 World Championships, set for June 27-July 7 in Prague, Czech Republic. The Florida coach, who will be assisted by VCU’s Shaka Smart and Virginia’s Tony Bennett, was asked questions about his team’s personnel and chemistry, plus potential tournament opponents and what to expect.
Donovan’s best answer: “I don’t know.”
That’s because Team USA will be selected from a group of 26 invitees -- including UF sophomore guard Michael Frazier III -- during a three-day tryout that begins Friday in Colorado Springs, Colo. The squad will go from there to Washington for three days of workouts and scrimmages next week at the NBA headquarters of the hometown Wizards before flying to Prague on June 22.
In other words, Donovan is about to immerse himself in hard-core offseason hoops in June, which for him is about as good as it gets. In addition to Frazier, he’ll have some friendly faces along for the ride, with Gators trainer Dave “Duke” Werner and assistant to the head coach Mark Daigneault helping round out the Team USA support staff.
“You really have to be organized,” said Donovan, who already has had a series of teleconferences with Smart and Bennett to lay the groundwork for how they’re going to coach this team. “We’ve talked about what we want to get in as far as offense, defense, style of play, philosophy, but you also have to come up with 10 or 12 things you have to get in; underneath out of bounds, end of shot clock, those kinds of things. I talk to each coach, hear what they like to do and we compile and put it all together.”
And then there’s the matter of putting together the actual team.
Among the 26 players trying out this weekend are Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart, Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes, Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon and Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell.
Donovan is familiar with a good core of the players trying out (including Smart, Stokes and Sulaimon) because he had them on the U18 team he coached to the gold medal at the FIBA Tournament of the Americas last summer in Brazil. Because that team finished in the top four of that event, it qualified to compete this summer in the world championships.
The schedule shows one practice Friday, two Saturday and one Sunday morning, then a selection committee meeting Sunday afternoon when a panel of coaches – Donovan and his staff, plus a group that includes Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Matt Painter (Purdue), Bruce Weber (Kansas State) and Lorenzo Romar (Washington) – will vote on the first nine players for the roster. Donovan, Smart and Bennett will select the final three “wild-card” players, based on team and position makeup.
Frazier, according to his coach, has a decent chance to make the squad.
History could be a factor in Frazier’s favor.
“We shot 18 percent from the 3-point line last year,” Donovan said. “That team won games by overwhelming teams with our athleticism, quickness and speed.”
Those won’t be enough to win at the world level, so Team USA will need not only to be well-rounded, but built to match up against the trends of international play.
Frazier was one of the best long-distance shooters in the nation as a freshman at 46.8 percent.
In 2011, Team USA lost 79-74 to the Russian team that buried 12 of 29 shots from arc. The Americans went 0-for-9 from distance.
UF center Patric Young was on that team.
“It’s a different kind of basketball,” Young said. “But it’s still basketball.”
Really good basketball.
Team USA, in fact, has won the U19 World Championships only once in the 10 stagings of the event, which dates to 1979. The 1991 squad, led by then-Gators coach Lon Kruger and starring Vin Baker, Wesley Person and UF’s Craig Brown, went 8-0 and won the gold.
In the two-plus decades since, USA teams armed with some outstanding players --Stephon Marbury, Vince Carter, Nick Collison, Deron Williams, J.J. Redick, Michael Beasley, Stephen Curry, DeAndre Jordan, Klay Thompson, Seth Curry, Jeremy Lamb, Doug McDermott, to name a few -- have gone to the U19 Worlds and failed to bring home the gold. It’s been by far the toughest age group to win because some of the best American players opt to bypass the event to prep for the NBA draft.
Donovan wants this time to be different.
Not long after the players report Friday, they’ll see a motivational video put together by USA Basketball that not only emphasizes the honor of wearing the uniform -- showing some of those magnificent Olympic Dream teams -- but also the history behind what this age group has done.
More specifically, what it hasn’t done.
“They’ll know what’s expected of them and what they’re up against,” Donovan said. “USA Basketball does a great job with that.”
Donovan, in turn, is honored to have the task of doing his best for basketball in his country while abroad.