COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Members of the U-16 junior national team in men’s basketball might disagree about whether the history of the team puts any pressure on them as they compete in Argentina this month, but they’re all certainly aware of the that history.
The U.S. U-16 and U-17 teams have combined to go 38-0 over the past six summers in international tournaments with coach Don Showalter coaching each one of those games. The U-16 team must go 5-0 in Bahia Blanca, Argentina at the FIBA Americas U-16 Championship to keep its perfect run intact.
“I was talking to some of the guys and we really don’t want to be that one team that goes and loses it,” said Jordan Brown, a 6-foot-10 forward from Woodcreek High School in Roseville, Calif. “We already know we’ve got to work hard so we can keep it going.”
The Americans will face Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Brazil on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, hoping to advance to the semifinals Saturday and the gold medal game Sunday. The top four teams will earn a berth in the U-17 world championships next summer.
“It’s really important,” said Ja’Vonte Smart, a 6-4 guard from Baton Rouge, La. “We have to play real, real hard like the other guys that have been here. We have to keep it going on.”
‘The other guys’ Smart is referring to includes a lengthy list of recognizable names, some of whom are already playing in the NBA and others who are about to take that step. Players such as Jabari Parker, James Michael McAdoo, Bradley Beal, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Stanley Johnson have contributed to the perfect record. Disappointing them is not something with which any of these players want to be associated.
Showalter said he is proud of the 38-0 mark, but he hasn’t spent any time discussing it with this year’s team. He has told players that other nation’s junior national teams are beginning to catch up to the U.S. and have grown accustomed to the style the Americans play. He said his players have to be focused or the first loss might come sooner rather than later.
“You know, I haven’t thought about it much,” Showalter said. “Obviously it’s something I look back on with great pride, but also you look at the players we’ve had and the 38-0 standpoint, those players make me a really good coach. It’s one of those things where you don’t really think about it going in that you want to keep your record undefeated, but it’s just an fantastic opportunity.”
Showalter said he doesn’t necessarily want players feeling any anxiety over the record or whom they would be disappointing if they lost, but he does want them to play for their families and hometowns and do what they can to win without doing too much.
“Now that we’ve been through it three times, every group sort of has a pride factor,” Showalter said. “They don’t want to let the group down before them. Now it’s to the point where it kind of feeds off itself for these young kids looking up to the ones who have already been there.”
Robert Woodard II, a 6-5 wing from Columbus, Miss., is going to Argentina as one of the most confident in the group. He said watching the team develop and players getting accustomed to each other in two-a-day practices over the past week has given him that confidence.
“I don’t think there is any pressure,” Woodard said. “I think we’ll go out and perform great every game and give it all that we’ve got. We’ve got great chemistry together. So I think that will really help us out in this tournament.”