U.S. Claims U17 World Championship Gold Medal Holding Off Australia 95-66
July 8, 2012 • Kaunas, Lithuania
Proving throughout the tournament that defense indeed wins championships, the 2012 USA Basketball Men’s U17 World Championship Team (8-0) went ahead late in the first quarter and defended the FIBA U17 World Championship title with a 92-65 victory over Australia (6-2). Played Sunday night in Kaunas, Lithuania, the Americans were paced to the win by Conner Frankamp’s (Wichita North H.S. / Wichita, Kan.) 22 points.
Jahlil Okafor (Whitney Young H.S. / Chicago, Ill.) scored 17 points and hauled in eight rebounds and was named the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship MVP, which was won in 2010 by recent Washington Wizards draftee Brad Beal. Okafor also listed on the five-member All-U17 World Championship Team along with USA teammate Justise Winslow (St. John’s School / Houston, Texas), who finished the night with 13 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and four steals. Also on the All-U17 Worlds team were Argentina’s Gabriel Deck, Australia’s Dante Exum, and Croatia’s Mario Hezonja.
Jabari Parker (Simeon Career Academy / Chicago, Ill.), who missed three games due to a sore foot, hit 5-of-6 field goals and finished the night with 12 points.
Croatia (7-1) bounced back from its semifinal loss to claim the bronze medal with a 93-61 victory over Spain (4-4).
“First of all, a lot of people had a lot to do with this trophy,” said Don Showalter, USA and Iowa City High School head coach. “Not only our players bought into our system, but we had two great assistant coaches in Mike Jones and Rich Gray, and the staff here with USA Basketball has been outstanding. It takes more than just a couple people. This is almost a little more enjoyable than our win two years ago in the gold medal game, just because this team had to overcome some adversity, some injuries and various things. I was really proud with our kids for hanging in there. We really didn't have a star, because they all bought into the fact that they were all playing for USA Basketball. I think that showed in the final game.”
“It feels great (to win MVP),” said Okafor. “Brad Beal was a lottery pick, so it’s just an honor to be a part of that. I’m extremely happy, I can’t even explain. I’m on cloud nine. We started this in October 2010 and now it’s over. So, it’s a sad thing, but I’m very happy because we got the gold.”
“It feels really good,” said Winslow, who had a team-best 21 steals over eight games, about being named all-tournament. “It’s a real good individual honor, but I couldn’t have done it without my team and the coaches. The coaches really motivated me. Ever since I got invited, last year I didn’t make (the U16 team) and they just told me to keep working. That’s what I did. I just tried to play my role, get rebounds and get some hustle points and everything worked out.”
The game started with five lead changes and five knotted scores and with 3:20 to play in the first quarter, the game was tied 14-14. The lead swapped hands for the final time as BeeJay Anya (DeMatha Catholic H.S. / Gaithersburg, Md.) delivered the first two of his eight points to give his side a 16-14 edge at 3:08. The red, white and blue, which went on to claim a 22-14 margin at the end of the first stanza, never again trailed.
After the U.S. upped its lead to 26-14, the Aussies changed up their defense, started to trap and try to slow down the fast-paced Americans. That resulted in a 5-0 run and a pair of U.S. turnovers, including a shot-clock violation. Showalter called for time following the second turnover and regrouped. Coming out of that timeout the USA outscored Australia 12-5 to close the half with a 14-point, 38-24, margin.
“We were expecting their trap, we just didn’t do a very good job of handling it to start with,” said Showalter. “I think after we got a little bit better organized and started getting baskets off of it, I think they felt they had to get out of it to stop us from scoring. Conner hit some outside shots and we got the ball to the basket and got some dunks off of it. That part of it, the fact that we broke their trap and scored off of it, it took a little bit organization from our part. We knew it was coming, so to get organized against it was a big thing for us.”
Australia again tried to change up its defense to start the second half and closed the margin to 10 points, 40-30, with 8:59 to play in the period. At the 4:34 mark Australia hit a pair from the line and was still within striking distance, 51-39. However the determined U.S. players quickly expanded their lead to 21 points, 62-41, with 1:24 on the clock. By the time the third-quarter buzzer sounded, the margin still hovered close to 20, 64-43.
Australia never again threatened as the United States outscored Australia 31-19 in the fourth quarter, including 14-2 in the final 3:35, to claim the gold medal.
Overall the USA outrebounded Australia 43-23 and held the Aussies to just 32.3 percent shooting from the field and 21.4 percent from 3-point. The Americans, however, nailed a red-hot 60.3 percent of its field goals and netted 44.4 percent of its tries from beyond the arc. The USA bench once again proved key as it outscored Australia’s bench 57-19, while the red, white and blue outscored Australia 46-18 in the paint.
“It was very exciting,” said USA Basketball newcomer Joel Berry (Lake Highland Prep School / Apopka, Fla.). “This was the first time being a part of USA (Basketball) I kind of felt like I was on top of the world. It’s just a great opportunity. A lot of kids don’t get a chance to get this opportunity. Im just so glad I can come here, represent my country and play with players around the country that’s in the same class as me, as good as me, some of them are better. It was just a great opportunity.”
How good was the defensive-minded American squad through its eight games? The USA averaged a tournament-best even 100.0 ppg., while holding teams to a low of 60.1 ppg. The U.S. also forced teams into shooting lows of 33.8 percent from field overall and 21.8 percent from 3-point, while swatting a third-best 4.75 bpg., nabbing a high of 13.6 spg., and forcing opponents into a high of 22.3 turnovers a contest.
“Words can’t describe it,” said Winslow on the feeling of winning a world championship gold medal. “We played some great countries, but just to know that USA is the best country in the world, there’s no better feeling. I never felt that before, to have that confetti falling down with all the teammates that I love. It felt really good.”
In classification play China (4-4) finished in seventh place after edging the Czech Republic (2-6) 77-70, while Canada (5-3) took fifth place with an 84-79 win over Argentina (4-4).
Assisting Showalter and the USA Developmental National Team for the second straight summer are Rich Gray (St. Louis Eagles AAU, Mo.) and Mike Jones (DeMatha H.S., Md.).
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.