Dakari Johnson, U17 Team Begin Trip To FIBA U17 World Championship
Colorado Springs, Colo. • June 21, 2012
Dakari Johnson (Montverde Academy [Fla.]/Brooklyn, N.Y.) and the other 11 members of the 2012 USA Basketball U17 National Team broke training camp on Thursday morning and set out for the Canary Islands en route to the FIBA U17 World Championship, which will be played June 29 through July 8 in Kaunas, Lithuania.
The USA U17 squad will spend Friday and Saturday practicing in the Canary Islands before playing exhibition games on Sunday and Monday. The team then will travel to Lithuania as it aims to defend the gold medal won by the 2010 USA U17 team in Hamburg, Germany.
Johnson knows the USA will arrive in Kaunas with targets on their backs as other teams will look to knock off the reigning champions.
“I’m expecting that they’re going to give us their best shot at beating us. I know the style of play is different, so I think we’ll have to adjust to that,” he said.
The USA U17 National Team is coached by Don Showalter (Iowa City H.S.), with help from assistant coaches Rich Gray (St. Louis Eagles AAU) and Mike Jones (DeMatha Catholic H.S.). The staff is tasked with preparing the team for international basketball. While seven members of the team experienced FIBA rules last year with the 2011 USA FIBA Americas U16 Championship Team, the remaining five, Johnson among them, will be competing with USA Basketball for the first time.
“We’re just trusting the coaches,” Johnson said of the team’s readiness. “They do a great job of preparing us. They’re telling us what we’re going to have to know to play over there.”
The goal is a gold medal, and said he Johnson knows what it will require for the USA to capture the championship.
“It’s going to take all 12 of us doing whatever we can to win,” Johnson said. “We have to be out of our comfort zone, so we’ll have to play hard and really compete. We can’t take anybody for granted.”
The opportunity to represent his country holds extra significance for Johnson as his aunt and two of his cousins have served in the Air Force.
“It felt great putting on that jersey knowing that my country is on the front and I’m representing it,” Johnson said. “It would be great (to win a gold medal). I have a lot of family members that have been in the armed forces fighting for our country, so doing something for my country is very humbling, and I’m grateful. (My family in the Air Force) does a lot for our country, and that’s humbling. Now I’m able to finally do my part and hopefully win a gold medal for my country.”
The team’s trek to Lithuania will be the first European trip for Johnson, though he has been given an idea of what to expect from several of his classmates at Montverde Academy that hail from Europe.
“I expect it to be different. I’ve never been to Europe before; I’ve heard a lot of different things about it. I go to an international school, so I know a lot of people from Spain and have a lot of friends from Europe. They always tell me how beautiful it is, so I can’t wait”
As for passing time on the flight over the Atlantic Ocean, Johnson plans to watch some movies and hopes not to get bored. The bond created between him and his teammates at training camp over the past week in Colorado Springs should help.
“I think I’ve made some really close friends here over the past week, and I think we’re starting to become a family,” he said.
That connection is sure to grow over the coming weeks as the 2012 USA U17 National Team travels the world together in pursuit of winning the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship.