USA Basketball holds training camp at Strake Jesuit

USA Men’s U16 National Team (Photo by Logan Riely/USA Basketball)*

by Will Turboff ’22

Before they jetted off to Mexico for the 2021 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, the USA Basketball Men’s U16 National Team practiced for weeks on the campus of Strake Jesuit.

Shortly before training camp began on August 13th, some of the country’s most elite young basketball players traveled from all across the nation to Houston with one goal in mind: make the team. Over 25 players were invited to attend this training camp, but USA Basketball coaches were tasked with cutting that number all the way down to 12 in less than a week.

Strake Jesuit has welcomed USAB a number of times as of late, as Coach Dom Amorosa, who serves as the Crusaders’ head basketball coach, works as a court couch for the team. Coach Amorosa has raved about this group of players, not only for their incredible play, but for their dedication and character.

During their time in Houston, these players-some of whom had already met through the AAU circuit and various other camps-were able to develop tight-knit bonds because of how much time they spent together in their week in town. Most days, their schedules were filled with two or three practices a day, team meals, and talks at their hotel. 

 “With such high level players, chemistry is easy to form in my opinion. No matter who I get teamed up with in practice, we automatically always click.” said Liam McNeeley, a 6-foot-7 forward who plays for John Paul II in Plano.

The relationships that the traveling party developed was clear to see from a Saturday night practice, just hours before the coaches had to make several more cuts. After starting the practice off with some free shootaround, the players warmed up with some stretches, which they would collectively yell the name of after coaches announced them. The intensity was high throughout, and finalists took the old ‘practice like you play’ advice to heart in every drill.

On his effort during practices, Ron Holland said, “It’s all about what you do that stands out, that shows the coaches ‘we gotta have him’, and that’s what I’m trying to put in the coaches head.” Holland, who is competing for the team in Mexico this week, plays for Duncanville High School and has already received offers from Texas, Memphis, and Houston, among others.

While most of these players will go back to their respective schools when they have wrapped up their commitments with USA Basketball, Jalen Lewis is in a  unique boat. This past July, Lewis signed with Overtime Elite, which provides the world’s most highly sought-after recruits with an opportunity to turn professional while they are in high school. When he signed, Jalen became the youngest player ever to turn pro in the history of American basketball.

When asked about his game and how it translated to the national team practices, Lewis said, “I just have to continue playing my game everyday, give full effort, because at the end of the day I want to represent my country and give it everything I have.”

At just 15 and 16 years old, these players have been given an opportunity to represent their country on an international stage, something that Robert Dillingham has had a hard time wrapping his mind around.

“Yeah, that’s just a crazy accomplishment to say that we’re playing for the USA team and we have a chance to win a gold medal at 16. This is like, major,” said Dillingham, a top-10 recruit in the country according to 247Sports.

Now that Dillingham, Lewis, McNeeley, Holland, and eight others have made their way on to an illustrious team, they look to live up to the legacy that prior U16 teams have set. Since the tournament began in 2009, USA is undefeated in 31 games, capturing 6 gold medals.

A special thanks to Coach Amorosa and to Craig Miller, alongside the entire USA Basketball Staff, for giving MAGIS permission to attend practice and talk to players via phone calls.