Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Since 1995, the United States has only won the FIBA U19 World Championship once — in 2009.
Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski and assistant Jim Boeheim made that message clear to the guys who tried out for this year’s U19 team and it made quite an impact on the players, especially Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon.
“We’ve only won this event, this age group, once [since 1995],” the 6-foot-3 Sulaimon told SNY.tv by phone from Colorado Springs, Colo., before he made the first cut to 16 players.
“[They told us] this competition is definitely going to be stiff competition and they just wanted us to understand what we’re getting into and what to look forward to.”
Six players who made the U19 cut — Sulaimon, Jerami Grant, Montrezl Harrell, James Robinson, Marcus Smart and Jarnell Stokes — were all part of the 2012 USA U18 National Team that won gold at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship and qualified the United States for the FIBA U19 World Championship.
Florida coach Billy Donovan is coaching the U19s after leading the U18s a year ago.
Sulaimon made the first U19 cut after battling guards like Smart, Rodney Purvis of UConn, Michael Frazier of Florida and Kris Dunn of Providence during workouts.
“A lot of guys are competing against each other,” he said. “It’s very competitive right now. Everybody here can play.”
Sulaimon averaged 11.6 points as a freshman at Duke, but his role figures to increase following the departures of Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee.
“I think [the U19 training] will help me tremendously,” he said. “If I do make the team and we go overseas, a lot of those guys play professionally and the experience with those guys and the guys here with high-level competition, it will just help my game grow and help me get better and I think it will help me out tremendously next year.”
With the additions of Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye, Sulaimon believes the Blue Devils will play a faster tempo than last year’s team that lost to eventual NCAA champion Louisville in the Elite Eight.
“I think we’re not going to skip a beat,” Sulaimon said. “We’re going to have a different outlook on our team.
“We don’t have tremendous post presence like we did last year and a stretch four like Ryan Kelly and an inside player like Mason Plumlee. But our team is going to be different. We’ll be very athletic and we’ll play a lot faster. I think this team has a chance to be very special.”
For now, though, Suliamon is focused on making the final cut and trying to bring back another gold medal for the U19 squad.
“Man, I’m motivated,” he said. “There’s no greater honor than to represent your country. And it’s even that more special if you can win the gold considering that we’ve only won it once [since ’95].
“Everybody here is locked in. All [the] players are locked in and we’re really engaged. If we do make the team, we’ll come together and we’ll do whatever it takes to win that gold.”
**For more stories on the USA U19 & U16 teams, click here.
Photo/Release: USA Basketball
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.