After outscoring Ivory Coast (0-1) 34-10 over the game’s first 10 minutes, the suspense about the USA’s opening game of the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship for Men in Prague, Czech Republic, was over quickly as a balanced scoring effort helped pace the Americans to an 88-29 win Thursday night.
Duke rising sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon started the contest and finished with three points, two rebounds and a steal in 17 minutes of action. The Houston, Texas, native was a key component in a Team USA defense that forced 21 turnovers, while allowing just one assist.
Ivory Coast’s 29 points were the fewest allowed by a USA U19 team in the history of the FIBA event that started in 1979 and has seen the USA play 83 games.
Forward Justise Winslow (St. Johns H.S.) scored a game-high 14 points and tied for a team-high with seven rebounds, while Aaron Gordon (Archbishop Mitty H.S.) and Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee) each tossed in 12 points and Jahlil Okafor (Whitney Young H.S.) added 10 points. Guard Elfrid Payton (Louisiana-Lafayette) finished with nine points, seven boards, one assist, one blocked shot and one steal.
Next up on Friday (2:15 p.m. EDT) for the U.S. is China (1-0), a team that surprised Russia (0-1) 71-69 Thursday night. The USA closes out preliminary round Group D play Saturday (2:15 p.m. EDT) facing Russia.
“I thought we got off to a really good start; I thought the press was good, we turned them over; I thought we played very unselfish. We had I think in the first half 12 assists, five turnovers,” said USA head coach Billy Donovan (University of Florida). “It was really one of those games where after the first half we were really able to distribute minutes and balance them out pretty evenly just for the fact we have to play three games in three days.”
Utilizing its depth and athleticism right from the opening tip, if it wasn’t a turnover that the USA was converting into a slam, then the U.S. was going inside where it dominated.
Trailing 2-1, the U.S. got baskets from big men Stokes, Montrezl Harrell (Louisville) and Gordon to take control 14-4 with the game just minutes old.
“It was important for us to grab control early and go inside because that’s our advantage,” remarked Stokes, a 6-8 and 250-pound center.
The USA put the game away with a quarter ending 20-4 offensive run that left the score 34-10 with three periods left to play. Nine U.S. players scored in the game’s first 10 minutes.
Jumping further ahead 51-13, by halftime the USA owned a 56-17 advantage. Outscoring Ivory Coast 19-5 in the third quarter, the U.S. out-produced the West African nation 13-7 to capture the decisive 88-29 win.
“The one thing we have really tried to sell these guys on is the fact that probably most teams here don’t have the level of depth that we have and you’re unable to use your depth unless your depth is playing at a really, really high level every single time they’re out there, every minute they’re out there. We need guys to give maximum effort and if they get tired giving maximum effort we’ll get them out and put a fresh guy in, and we’ll get maximum effort again. I think that’s kind of the philosophy to constantly try and keep pressure by playing with fresh bodies at a high level of intensity.” Added Donovan.
The USA, which shot 68.8 percent in the first half, while recording 14 assists on its 24 makes, finished the night shooting 50.7 percent and with 21 assists. Ivory Coast managed to make just 18.2 percent of its attempts from the floor, and the USA forced 21 turnovers and owned a 59-26 advantage on the glass.
“We’ve got 12 guys here that can go and that have the motor to go, so there’s no reason for one guy to hold anything back and try to conserve his energy because he feels like he needs to,” said Marcus Smart, who accounted for five points, two assists and five steals. “We’ve got 12 great guys that can play and play at a high level so I think that’s a great way for us to go play.”
In other opening day action, in Group A Spain (1-0) defeated Canada (0-1) 81-70 and Croatia (1-0) beat South Korea (0-1) 106-88; Group B play saw Lithuania (1-0) edge host Czech Republic (0-1) 77-74 and Iran (1-0) surprised Argentina (0-1) 84-73; Australia (1-0) downed Senegal (0-1) 90-46 and Serbia (1-0) took care of Brazil (0-1) 65-50 in Group C play.
Assisting Donovan with the 2013 USA U19 World Championship Team is experienced and successful college coaches Tony Bennett (Virginia) and Shaka Smart (Virginia Commonwealth) as assistant coaches
Sixteen countries are competing in the FIBA U19 World Championship. The top three finishing teams from each first-round group advance to the second round that will be played July 1-3, and the 12 teams will be divided into Groups E and F. Each team will play the three new teams in its new group, with preliminary-round results carrying over to the second-round standings. Teams finishing in first through fourth places in the second round will qualify for the quarterfinals, with the opportunity to advance to the semifinals and finals. The quarterfinals will be held on July 5, semifinals are slated for July 6 and the gold medal game will be contested on July 7. Game times will be announced by FIBA at a later date.
Originally known as the FIBA Junior World Championship, the tournament was held every four years between 1979-2007. FIBA now conducts the U19 World Championship every two years. USA men's teams are now 70-13 in the U19/Junior World Championships and have won four gold and three silver medals, most recently finishing with a 7-2 record and in fifth place in 2011.