The 12 athletes who will represent USA Basketball at the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup for Men in Argentina no doubt will be talented – that much has been on display since training camp started with 30 hopefuls on June 15 at the United States Olympic Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
What is not certain is which 12 it will be.
Eleven helped USA Basketball qualify for the U17 World Cup with a gold medal finish at the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship this past summer, including tournament MVP – Vernon Carey Jr. (University School/Southwest Ranches, Fla.).
“My mindset coming in was just to compete and prove to everyone that I belong here and hopefully make the team,” said Carey, a 6-foot-10, 277 pound forward. “Overall, I feel like there is nothing really to worry about, because if I play hard, everything will just happen for itself.”
At University School in 2017-18, with USA Basketball in Argentina in 2017 and again at trials for the 2018 USA U17 team, Carey has been teamed up with 6-foot-8, 210-pound Scottie Barnes (University School/West Palm Beach, Fla.).
“Last year showed me not to take things for granted,” Barnes said. “After playing for USA Basketball, once I went into my high school season, I had that same focus and intensity. It helped me pick up my defense, never take a play off. It showed me how much effort you have to try and put into your game.”
Each training camp, however, is a fresh start, featuring a roster full of scorers, defenders and young athletes with tremendous skills all hoping to fill a role.
Kahlil Whitney (Roselle Catholic H.S./Roselle, N.J.), a 6-foot-6, 200-pound forward, is one of 10 athletes at the 2018 U17 camp in their first USA Basketball experience.
“I was very excited. I didn’t know I was going to get invited,” Whitney said. “I’ve been dreaming about this day since I was a kid.
“Coming out here and playing with the top players in the country is very competitive, so you have to come out here ready to play.”
Whitney says being a part of USA Basketball is something he has wanted since he was a young fan of the game.
“It was watching the Olympic team that made me want to play for USA Basketball, Whitney said. “Watching the Dream Team highlights and then watching, K.D. (Kevin Durant), one of my favorite players. I love the Olympics, and I love USA Basketball.”
While the roster decisions ultimately are made by the USA Basketball Men’s Developmental National Team Committee, USA head coach Don Showalter, who has led the USA U16 and U17 national teams since the inaugural event in 2009 – including winning nine-straight gold medals – also will have a voice in the considerations.
“The committee didn’t bring back anybody they didn’t think could make the team,” Showalter said. “We’re talking 30, ultra-high-level, elite players. Having said that. Each of them has shown in a way that they deserve to be here.
“They are all talented, so that part probably will be a little bit secondary, because what we want is energy, can they play defense, are they great teammates, are they going to be good kids traveling, those kinds of things are really important for us. We are not into making an all-star team, we are into making a solid team.”
On Monday morning, June 18, the committee will announce finalists for the team. And then, after two more days of training camp, the 12-member team is expected to be announced on the morning of June 20th.
“I told my whole family before I came here that my goal was to make this team,” Whitney said.
Even returning gold medalists feel like they have something to prove.
“My mindset is to try to make this team for the second time,” Barnes said. “Just try to play my hardest. Try to do the best I can through all these drills and try to be the best player here.
“I just want to succeed. I don’t like to fail. And, this is a big opportunity for me.”