On Travel, Practice and Brotherhood
June 15, 2009 - Mendoza, Argentina
|Members of the USA U16 National Team pose at the Mendoza airport.|
There are too many places to list in the dateline. From the USA Basketball U16 National Team's start on Saturday morning in Colorado Springs to the squad's final drive from the Mendoza airport to the hotel, the 15- and 16-year-olds traveled more in nearly 27 hours than most had traveled their entire lives.
Pulling out of the U.S. Olympic Training Center on Saturday morning, the U.S. bused up to Denver, and flew to Dulles. Connecting on a flight to Argentina, one that took about 10 hours, the team arrived in Argentina groggy-eyed and unsure of the immigration and customs procedures early on Sunday morning. They got through it like old pros, even wearing the required masks from the plane and through the immigration area (recent precautions undertaken by Argentina due to the swine flu).
Next came baggage claim and three mini buses for the drive across the city to a different airport. Nearly everyone slept through the final flight to Mendoza, where the team was greeted by our host and two small buses. After all the luggage " large bags that numbered close to 40 " was loaded into the buses there wasn't much room to sit as many of the bags needed to be put up top among the seats. For the USA Basketball staff, it was just another long travel day. For the guys, it was the beginning of a new experience.
The hotel is new and opened about four months ago. The staff is friendly, many speak English, and very helpful. There are two computers that are on 24/7 in the lobby that have been taken over by the U.S. and Argentine teams. Canada arrived on Monday and now we have three teams of young guys jockeying for internet time. That could very well be the second-best competition of the week!
The team's first practice, held in a small local athletic club, might have started off slow as the guys shook off the cobwebs, but it finished up very strong. By the evening's practice, held in the official gym, the passes were crisper, the shots were falling and the smell of competition was in the air. There are still things to work on before this team can win a gold medal, however, they're looking more like a team every day.
Monday also brought news that Sterling Gibbs' brother, Pitt guard Ashton Gibbs, had been added to the USA Basketball Men's U19 World Championship Team Trials roster. Should he make the team, the brothers Gibb will be swapping stories and showing off their passport stamps in about a month!
So that's the USA Basketball.com story of the travel day. But don't take our word for it, read about it from USA head coach Don Showalter, Miller Grove High School center Tony Parker and the younger of the Gibb brothers, Seton Hall Prep guard Sterling. And see a part of it in our USA travel day photo gallery!
Don Showalter, USA head coach
On the travel day:
It was a long 30 hours from when we left Colorado to the time we got here. The time change isn't too bad, but it's still a tough day of traveling. I think the kids have to adjust a little bit to the sleeping pattern. We hope they get back to their regular sleeping pattern tonight.
How did the kids react during the travel?
When you have a group like this, some are obviously more helpful than others. That was the case with our group. For the most part I thought they did a good job with getting their baggage, getting to the next point of travel on time, which is important. I think it wore them down a little bit though.
Did that effect today's first practice?
It probably was one of those practices where you get there and have to go through some things. Hopefully the kids will register with some of the things you do and as the practice went on, we got a little better. I knew it was going to be a tough morning for them from a practice standpoint.
You talked to the team about being out of their comfort zone. Is that the case?
Yeah, they're out of their comfort zone. There's the food â€¦ this is a very nice place and the food is good. But, a lot of times it's not that the food is bad, it's just that it looks different. It's just a little different than they expect it to be. The beds aren't quite the same. I think the comfort zone is with each other. Hopefully that's going to be enough to carry us through some of the tough times you get in games.
How is the team coming together?
The chemistry is starting to get a lot better because we've been around each other for almost two weeks now. On and off the court we've been connecting and being able to get to know each other even better.
Did your travel experience help you bond?
Yes, it helped a lot because we were together for the whole day rather than having everybody sleeping or going their different ways. We were all stuck together, so that helped.
What was the most interesting thing about your travel day?
The way it went by so fast. The 10 hours on the plane I thought was going to be crazy, but I was able to sleep through most of it.
What do you think about your hotel?
I think it's one of the best hotels I've stayed in so far. I wasn't expecting this. I didn't know what to expect when I first got here. It's nice, it's a different experience.
You still have one more day to practice before the tournament starts. What do you still need to work on?
I'll say defense, because we can score at will on any team. We have the best players in the country as scorers, but the defensive part is what's going to have to kick in.
Your brother, Ashton, will be trying out for the USA U19 World Championship Team this week. Do you have any words of advice for him?
We've been talking about it. He pretty much knows what to expect because he's been in that type of situation a couple times. When I was coming out, I didn't really know what to expect. But he knows what to expect and I feel he'll do really well.
Is your family excited for both of you?
Yeah, really excited. I talked to my mom yesterday and she told me how proud she was and how proud she was of my brother too. That got me a little choked up.
Has he wished you luck?
Oh yeah. He texted me right before the plane took off to come here, since I can't use my phone down here. He texted me a couple paragraphs about how proud he was, different things to expect and how it's a good opportunity for both of us.
What's been the best thing about your whole experience so far?
It's being able to get to know everyone personally. I knew them all. I got to see them all play before this, but I didn't know how nice they were. How good their personalities were. It turned out for the best.
On yesterday's long travel day:
I've experienced close to that kind of travel. Like when you get into an airport like Hartsfield-Jackson, it's very big and crowded. But not something like 10-hour flights and changing planes and airports like that. It was kind of weird. And that many bags, I've never seen that many bags in a van before ever in my life.
What about the customs process?
Oh yeah. Those forms were a killer, but it's something you have to adjust to. When you have your first trip overseas it's a lot to adjust to. Then you get accustomed to it and I'm sure it gets a lot easier. It was pretty smooth, pretty smooth travels.
You all seemed to be staying positive about everything:
Yeah, everyone is pretty positive. Everyone is starting to miss home, of course, but we're all staying positive because we know we all want to win the gold.
Some of you were talking with the Argentine team when we arrived:
Yeah, we chatted with them a little bit. We're still enemies on the court, but we touched base and started building a competitive friendship. It was nice. They told us about the place, what's good and what's not, your do's and don'ts about a situation. It was good.
How's the hotel?
I like it. It's real nice. The flat-screened TVs of course are nice. I'm adjusting to the Spanish commercials. It's good.
What was practice like this morning?
It was slow at first but you would think it would be a slow practice coming in. It's our first time in the gym. This is a real Argentina gym so we have the trapezoid (lane). It was a little hard adjusting to it. But we picked it up.