The USA Women’s national soccer (and softball) teams weren’t the only American squads to claim a world title on Sunday evening. The American Men’s U19 basketball team also emerged as world champs after defeating Croatia in a close bout in Crete, Greece at the FIBA World Championship.
Following 40 competitive minutes during which neither the USA (7-0) or Croatia (5-2) could pull away, the USA rolled in the five minutes of overtime and outscored upset-minded Croatia 12-4 to earn a hard-fought 79-71 win in the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship gold medal game Sunday night in Heraklion, Greece. It was a second consecutive FIBA U19 world title for the Americans who also won the event in 2013.
“No question, we had to fight through miscues,” said USA and University of Arizona coach Sean Miller.“Really I thought we probably shot more inside shots than we did the entire tournament but they didn’t fall. But to our team’s credit, we stayed with it, we preserved, we got defensive stops and I thought our effort level in overtime really reflects a lot about the character of our team. We were at our best when it mattered the most.
“It’s an incredible experience. First of all you’re representing the USA and we all know what that means. But you also represent everybody in the USA in terms of basketball – coaches, players alike. So you have great responsibility, a lot of pressure on your shoulders to deliver. I’m really happy for our staff. We worked hard together for 23 days and our players and everybody associated with it – job well done and we feel good. We’re headed home now with the gold,” added Sean Miller.
Jalen Brunson (Stevenson H.S./ Lincolnshire, Ill.), who finished the seven game championship averaging 14.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and team-highs of 5.6 assists and 2.1 steals a game, was named the Most Valuable Player of the FIBA U19 World Championship.
“I’m speechless,” admitted Brunson. “I’ve got to give credit to my teammates. They found me the right positions to just make plays. I just can’t thank everybody enough. We worked so hard for this.”
Joining Brunson on the five-member All-Tournament Team was the USA’s Harry Giles (Wesleyan Christian Academy/Winston-Salem, N.C.), who averaged during the tournament a double-double of 14.0 points and 10.6 rebounds a game.
“He (Jalen) had a great tournament, said Sean Miller about Brunson. “He emerged as our leader as well, and when you have a leader at that position it helps things. I thought his performance against Greece with 30 points was an incredible performance. Down the home stretch of today’s game he stepped up big.”
Ten USA players contributed points in the gold medal victory, and Brunson, who finished with a team-high seven assists, while not committing a turnover, scored all 14 points of his U.S.-high in the second half and overtime. Giles contributed his fifth-consecutive double-double, finishing with 13 points and 16 rebounds. Jayson Tatum (Chaminade College Prep/St. Louis, Mo.) added 13 points and six rebounds; and Josh Jackson (Prolific Prep, Calif./Southfield, Mich.) added 10 points and eight rebounds.