2012 USA Men’s U17 World Championship Team Runs Past Latvia 108-72
June 24, 2012 • Las Palmas, Canary Islands
Behind 26 points and 15 rebounds from Jahlil Okafor (Whitney Young H.S. / Chicago, Ill.), the 2012 USA Basketball Men’s U17 World Championship Team passed its first international test by defeating Latvia 108-72 in an exhibition contest on Sunday night in Las Palmas, Canary Islands. The game was part of the Gran Canaria U17 International Invitational, a four-team, two-day tournament. In tonight’s second contest Australia defeated host Spain 71-55.
The USA will face off against Australia on June 25 for the tournament championship game (3:30 p.m. EDT), while Latvia will play Spain for third place (1:30 p.m. EDT).
All 10 players who suited up scored, including six who put up double-digit points. In addition to Okafor, who was a sizzling 12-of-16 from the field; Dakari Johnson (Montverde Academy, Fla. / Brooklyn, N.Y.) had 17 points and seven boards; Stephen Domingo (Saint Ignatius Prep / San Francisco, Calif.) scored 15 to go with six rebounds; Stanley Johnson (Mater Dei H.S. / Fullerton, Calif.) scored 12 points; Justise Winslow (St. John’s School / Houston, Texas) also notched a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds; while Johnathan Williams (Southwind H.S. / Memphis, Tenn.) contributed 10 points and eight boards. Further, Tyus Jones (Apple Valley H.S. / Apple Valley, Minn.) dished out 10 of the USA’s 23 assists and notched five of the team’s 13 steals.
“Latvia played really well tonight,” said Don Showalter, USA and Iowa City High School head coach. “I thought they came out hard and we were a little lax. But at the same time, I thought our team really rebounded well, played some great defense and got some easy baskets that way. Overall, I was very pleased with the way we played.
“For us, I think it was a typical first game, which is why we want to play this tournament in the Canary Islands before we go to the U17 World Championship. It told us a few things we need to work on. I didn’t think our defensive rotation was real good at times. We gave up too many easy threes. Latvia did a great job of moving the basketball and a lot of times our kids were a little late getting there. Our free throw shooting was a little suspect. I think we were only about 50 percent from the free-throw line. So, those are things. They’re all things that can be corrected, but our kids were just anxious to play a game after a long trip. I think now they understand the level we have to get to, which is good.”
It took most of the first quarter, which saw seven lead changes and three knotted scores, for U.S. squad to get going. Latvia started off the game on a 7-2 run and at 6:53 the USA trailed 12-8. With Latvia holding a 17-16 edge, Stanley Johnson hit one of two from the line to knot the score at 17-all at the 1:41 mark. He then put the Americans ahead for good after taking a feed from Tyus Jones at 1:19. After Winslow hit the back end of a pair of attempts at the stripe, he found Stanley Johnson open with three seconds to play in the quarter. After Stanley Johnson hit his mark, the U.S. was on a 6-0 run and held a 22-17 lead as the quarter ended.
“We got off to a slow start,” said Okafor, who had six points in the first quarter and 12 at the half. “Coach Showalter got on us after the first quarter. He let us know that we weren’t playing how we were supposed to be playing and after that we turned up our intensity. We have our gold medal standards and we weren’t playing by those gold medal standards. He got onto us and we picked it up.”
Stanley Johnson’s free throw was the first point in what eventually became a 16-2 U.S. run that ended on an Okafor bucket with 6:44 to play before half. By then the game was well in hand, 32-19. The U.S. continued to expand its lead and by halftime owned a 52-33 advantage.
“We came out kind of tentative, not aggressive and with not enough intensity,” said Tyus Jones. “We got down in the first quarter and we realized that that was not how it’s supposed to be. So we picked up the intensity, picked up our defensive pressure and got it going.
Latvia, which was outmatched by the size of the USA’s big men, never seriously threatened in the second half and at the end of the third quarter the score stood at 83-47. The fourth quarter was an even affair with both teams scoring 25 points as the red, white and blue cruised in for the win.
“It’s a completely different atmosphere,” said Domingo, who played in his first game for USA Basketball tonight. “The game moves really fast. The international players are really good, we just have to be physical with them. It started off a little slow, but in the second quarter we really got on them. We really got physical in the second quarter.”
Not only did the USA dominate the scoring, the squad outrebounded Latvia by a whopping 66-22 margin, shot a blistering 53.5 percent (46-86 FGs) from the field and held Latvia to just 37.3 percent (25-67 FGs) shooting overall. However, the USA’s defense allowed Latvia to nail 42.9 percent (12-28 3pt FGs) from beyond the 3-point line and the U.S. made just 50.0 percent (12-24 FTs) from the charity stripe.
“We need to just focus,” added Domingo. “They were running a couple plays over and over again, and they were scoring on them on the screens. So, we just need to focus and recognize that if they’re running the same play, we can jump that play, get steals out of it and get more points.”
The U.S. squad is using this mini-tournament in order to prepare to defend the USA’s FIBA U17 World Championship title. The 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship is being held June 29 – July 8 in Kaunas, Lithuania.
Joel Berry (Lake Highland Prep School / Apopka, Fla.) and Jabari Parker (Simeon Career Academy / Chicago, Ill.) did not play tonight due to injuries sustained during training camp in Colorado Springs. Berry is recovering from a concussion and is listed as day-to-day, while Parker injured his left toe and is sitting out the two games in the Canary Islands as a precautionary measure.
Opening 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship play on June 29 against Australia, the U.S. will face the Czech Republic on June 30, Egypt on July 1 and France on July 3 before closing preliminary play against China on July 4. The top four finishing teams from each group will advance to the medal round with the quarterfinals staged on July 6, the semifinals on July 7 and the finals on July 8.
The inaugural FIBA U17 World Championship for Men was held in 2010. The USA captured gold with a perfect 8-0 record and former University of Florida standout Brad Beal was tabbed MVP of the tournament. The event is held every other year (2012, 2014, etc.). The USA qualified for this event by winning the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship.