The United States U19 men’s basketball team went 9-0 in the recent FIBA world championships coached by Florida head coach Billy Donovan. Donovan’s international coaching record improved to 14-0 after last summer’s 4-0 stint as coach of USA’s U18 team during the FIBA Americas championship.
This second year at the helm offered some familiarity with the roster. Guards Marcus Smart, Rasheed Sulaimon and forward Jarnell Stokes returned from Donovan’s U18 team a year older and more experienced but there was another familiar face on the U19 roster.
Florida guard Micheal Frazier suited up for international competition in Prague. Frazier averaged 6.7 points per game and appeared in every one of the nine games the United States took the floor. Frazier had trouble getting going early in the tournament; it’s not something his coach was surprised about.
“I’ve seen this happen last year with the international [three point] line. Guys do not shoot the ball particularly well, there’s an adjustment period because it’s a deeper shot. He didn’t shoot the ball particularly well to start the tournament but once he got into a rhythm … he shot it much better,” Donovan said.
Donovan’s squad did face some challenges, one of which was lack of time to build cohesion. Where other teams practiced together for months, after the roster was set, team USA only had about 12 days to develop chemistry. They found it quickly, blowing teams out by an average victory margin of 39.6 points. Besides a 9-point pool play victory against Serbia, every other game USA played was decided by double digits, (including a gold medal game rematch with the Serbs, which they won 82-68).
“We probably felt going into it that we weren’t going to out-execute people with a limited amount of practice. What we needed to do was use our depth. Every single game we used 12 guys. We needed to press, try to force turnovers, get to the offensive glass, rebound, those kinds of things,” Donovan said about his team’s style of play.
For the Florida headman, the honor of winning a gold medal with the U19 team wasn’t something he took lightly, especially after the achievement was put in perspective.
“I didn’t realize it until after we won, but Sean Ford of USA basketball told me it was only the third time in 30 years, so it’s been an area where I think the country has struggled in,” Donovan said. “To be a part of having a chance to win a gold medal with this group, considering the fact that there’s been some struggles at this world championship, really made it that much sweeter.”