Toughness, I.Q. and defense. Those, Bruce Weber said Wednesday, were the key components of his gold medal run with USA Basketball’s U19 World Cup team. Weber and the U.S. went 7-0 en route to defeating Lithuania 102-67 in the gold medal game on July 7, and even though the scores often were lopsided, Weber said it wasn’t as easy as it may have looked.
“It was an interesting 23 days,” said Weber, Kansas State’s head men’s basketball coach who served in that same role at the World Cup. “A microcosm of the season with five months all kind of jammed in to try and get a group to play together. It was an amazing, unique experience, but very stressful. You are expected to win and everybody is against us. Whether it’s in one country or another, they all want to beat you. We always got people’s best shot.”
Weber worked with a melting pot of young talent, ranging from those who had been part of Team USA’s program for years and have played on TV many times to others few had ever heard of prior to the tournament.
This included his own Kansas State freshman, DaJuan Gordon, who didn’t make the final cut for the roster.
“DaJuan, he had a great start those first couple of days,” Weber said. “People didn’t know him ... he got some people excited. He was on the board early. But the whole thing probably just took a toll on him, and the last few days he didn’t get much done. Even as a coach I had a little poll, but you’ve got a committee and court coach. One of his coaches told him on his exit interview, ‘No one knew you when you got here, and a few years from now you will probably be better than most of these guys.’ So I think that’s a compliment to him.”
Weber’s still exhausted from the event, which is something he rarely likes to admit, he said. Having a little more than three weeks to take on other country’s national teams that worked together for many years is a task these young Team USA squads often have to overcome. Weber was pleased with the results, confirming his beliefs about winning basketball and the advice he received from previous U.S. coaches like Jeff Van Gundy and Sean Miller.
“Those other teams have been together and are running plays, flares into down-screens and all this stuff and we just had to overcome that, the lack of being together, with that toughness and togetherness,” he said. “Once we got them to believe in that, and we got them to pass, we were really good.”
The team found ways to bond in Greece, Weber said. Seeing the new Spider-Man movie was one of the “little things” Weber mentioned that contributed to the team finding its chemistry.
He also enjoyed the setting, being around all other teams from all over the world that were in Greece for the same reason his team was.
“We were in a little village and community,” Weber said. “You would be walking and the French coach would be there, then you are talking to the Lithuanians and they all love basketball. They all want to talk basketball. But I think that was cool, to be part of it. They all wanted to beat us. The crowds were against us. Not horrible or anything, but they wanted to beat the Americans and I think that added a little stress to that.”