A few months ago, Colorado head coach Tad Boyle received an invitation from USA Basketball to serve as its assistant coach during the Pan American Games. Now he’ll be taking his talents to Toronto starting July 21 in an international tournament featuring countries from both North and South America.
At the beginning of the year, Boyle received a call from Gonzaga University’s head basketball coach.
“It was Mark Few who contacted me,” Boyle said. “It was sometime in January or February I think, and he just asked if I would have an interest… When you weigh the opportunity and the honor when you’re asked to serve your country through USA Basketball, those opportunities don’t come around very often.”
It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“USA Basketball has a history of having great coaches from top to bottom in their organization,” Boyle said. “Any time you’re asked to participate, it’s a little bit humbling and it’s not something I think you can afford to pass on, because of the experience and honor that comes with it.”
Few said he was thrilled have Boyle on staff.
“(Boyle) brings pretty much everything,” Few said. “He brings great knowledge, great experience and a good defensive kind of mindset that can help us. He’s just one of those coaches that is good at everything.”
That’s quite the compliment coming from the winningest active coach in the country. In his 16 years at Gonzaga, Few has compiled a 438-103 record. This past year, he led Gonzaga to the Elite Eight after racking up a 35-3 record.
Earlier this week, expert photographer Nigel Amstock and I ventured down to Colorado Springs to check out the Team USA hopefuls, which were comprised primarily of college players alongside five professional ballers.
This week Team USA held practices and tryouts earlier this week in Colorado Springs.
“It’s going to be a little bit like a chemistry experiment,” Boyle said about the makeup of the roster.
But as for the variety of talent on the primary roster, Few believed that it would be beneficial for everybody involved in the long run.
“It’s interesting when you’ve got those guys that play professionally overseas,” Few said. “These guys are certainly pretty far along in their basketball development. They’ve seen it, done it, and know what it’s all about, so they’re going to be our leaders for sure. But along those lines, the college guys got some great enthusiasm, and that’s important too. They’re doing a nice job competing.”
Colorado’s very own Josh Scott was offered the chance to try out for the team, but as his position was perhaps the toughest spot to grab on the roster, he didn’t make the final cut. During the first few days of the training camp at the Olympic Center, Scott was forced to compete against the likes of Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes, Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski and the Sacramento Kings’ Ryan Hollins, just to name a few.
In his defense, however, he did have Hayes guarding him during scrimmages throughout the duration of the camp, who was easily one of the best defenders in the lineup.
But regardless of Scott just missing the first cut for the team, the experience is surely something that will benefit him in the long run. In the few short days that Scott attended the camp, he got the chance to work with some of the most elite players in the NCAA and some of the most notable coaches in the game today.
Former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown, Georgia State’s Ron Hunter, Maryland’s Mark Turgeon, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Illinois’s John Groce also attended the camp to share their wisdom with players and coaches alike.
The semi-final roster, which you can view here, includes the likes of Hayes, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine and the deadly duo from Wichita State—Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker.
Hayes, who helped Wisconsin make its way to the national title game during the NCAA tournament, said he’s ready to face the challenge ahead of him.
“When you make a run for the title, you usually end up playing the best teams in the country, and they have the best players,” Hayes said. “I’m used to playing against the best competition. Now that we’re all together on one team, we’re trying to put together the best team to compete against the other countries. But as far as the top-notch competition goes, that’s something that I’ve grown accustomed to.”
And although he’s one of the youngest guys on the team at age 20, the older talent doesn’t intimidate Hayes.
“I see it as being very exciting in that there’s a lot that I can learn, especially since one of the guys out here is 35 (Damien Wilkins), which means he’s been around basketball a lot longer than I have,” Hayes said. “Being able to play with guys like that, they can teach you little tricks, or you watch them play and you can learn from them how to not only play within your team but also for yourself.”
But Hayes believes he’s one of the most talented players to make the team.
“I’m the most versatile player, I think, out here,” Hayes said. “But that being said, I try to say that in the most humble way possible. To put the time, effort, and work into my versatile game, but I think that that’s something, especially in the international games…that is very beneficial in the long run.”
Hayes certainly backed up that claim during the first few days of the camp, as he demonstrated his high basketball IQ in his defensive skill, mid-range shooting and three-point shooting. There were times Scott didn’t stand a chance against his dirty court tricks.
Some other players that stood out to included Tarczewski and the two Shockers. Most Pac-12 fans who have seen Tarczewski play over the past few years wouldn’t have any doubt he deserved a spot on this roster. Standing at seven feet tall, dunking comes easily to the not-so-gentle giant—he slammed home several dunks against his unsuspecting opponents in practice.
As for the Wichita State boys, none can defy their high basketball IQ in every play they make, whether it’s taking the ball down the court or attacking the rim. Just by looking at the lineup for the final roster, it looks as the Team USA has more than enough talent to make a good run in the Games.
Few conceded that despite the immense talent on the American team, it won’t have an easy road to the title.
“They’re good, and a lot of them have NBA guys, so that’s going to be a challenge,” Few said of the competition. “And then they’re also primarily made up of professionals from somewhere (various countries) that are really experienced. They’ve got a lot of international games under their belt so that will be a real challenge.”
He didn’t let that deter his spirit, though.
“I haven’t even seen the other teams, so until we can see them, I don’t know,” Few said. “But we’re Team USA, so we expect to win.”
Team USA’s first game is July 21 against Venezuela, and the eight-team tournament runs until July 25. Games will be broadcasts on ESPN’s family of networks.
Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Alissa Noe at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on twitter at @crazysportgirl1.