U18 Trials Underway In D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Bob McKillop and his staff are working dilligently to piece together our national team. Later this month, 12 guys will head to Argentina. Lance Stephenson was the big gun Wednesday night.

On the eve of our nation's birthday, selected 18-and-under players from coast to coast are in Washington, D.C., competing for a spot on the Junior National Team.

The team trials, held at the Verizon Center, run July 1 through July 10 and as the process evolves the team gets shrunk from 18 to 12 players. Beginning July 14 the squad plays Group B games in Argentina. Puerto Rico, Bahamas and Venezuela (led by Greg Echenique) stand in the way of advancing to the medal round.

Scout.com was in the house on Wednesday, taking in a pair of practice sessions. Bob McKillop of Davidson is the head coach and he's flanked by Georgetown's John Thompson and VCU's Anthony Grant. These guys are coaching the kids intensely and giving them a first-hand look at what a college practice is like.

McKillop turned up the intensity and speed and communication. The entire staff's focus was on the pace of practice. The kids have no idea how valuable the experience will be down the road as they not only get to compete but also see the difference in intensity and accountability to can only come with a true collegiate practice.

"Fatigue makes cowards out of everybody," McKillop railed. "Fight through that."

USA's mission is to play fast and run the floor, a strategy that must work because this is not a particularly accurate shooting group. In the first session of the day, USA went 1-for-17 behind the line. Shooting is not going to be strength.

In the night session, one thing became abundantly clear: Lance Stephenson is the unit's biggest offensive threat.

Stephenson scored 11 in his White Team's 33-26, three quarter win over the Blue. Forget the points and his obvious ability to attack and put pressure on defenses. It was Stephenson's demeanor – or attitude reversal -- which stood out the most.

During the morning session, Stephenson wasn't getting it. Complaining and showing signs of frustration, he had a rough morning following what was reportedly a poor Tuesday night session.

In between the 2nd and 3rd quarter, McKillop gently pulled Lance aside and seemed to hit the reset button on his approach to the game. More folks were in his ear throughout the day and his demeanor and approach improved in the evening. In short, if this team is to succeed big overseas, Stephenson has the biggest responsibility to score, create and bring others along for the ride.

Another young man Team USA needs is Ryan Kelly. This team has an abundance of face-up bigs and Kelly's scoring touch should give him an inside track on a lot of playing time.

It wasn't but a year ago, Kelly was holding out for mid-major scholarship offers and now he's holding out hope for an invitation to this team. Did he ever imagine this level of success?

Kelly Living The Dream
"Not this much," Kelly chuckled. "I'm here trying out for USA's team. (A year ago) it wasn't even a thought. I was looking at mid-majors. I knew I'd get better and my goal was to play at the highest level. I wanted to get better."

For Kelly, getting better begins with a 6 a.m. daily wake-up call and a short trek to his high school gym. He gets up tons of shots and while others claim to put work into their game, few can back up it with the tangible results Kelly can point to.

"Hopefully I'll get on this team," Kelly said. "It's the highest honor."

If he makes it – all signs point to that happening – numerous colleges may have to tweak their July plans and headed to Argentina. Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Davidson, Virginia, Stanford, North Carolina State and Georgetown are in the mix. Obviously, McKillop and Thompson, two of USA's coaches, will be there.

Kelly is getting a window into what it would be like playing for those men. "They let me know (in advance) they would coach me (hard). It's a good opportunity to see how they coach in person."

The next 48 hours will be pivotal for the kids in terms of locking down roster spots. Thursday opened with a round of cuts as small forward Hollis Thompson, center Kenny Hall and forward Ari Stewart were cut. Reeves Nelson went home with an injury on Wednesday.

Contending For Spots:

  • Dominic Cheek, SG – big time first night, average second day. Team can use his scoring touch
  • JaMychal Green, PF – McKillop raved about his energy. Rebounding prowess likely gets him a spot
  • Matt Humphrey, SG – Brought into the mix to make 3s and that hasn't happened yet so he's got to step it up
  • Ryan Kelly, PF – Has been impressive in 2 out of the 3 sessions
  • Malcolm Lee, G – has a chance to make team as a back up point and is in battle to do so
  • Malik Wayns, PG – waiting for the bulldog to hit his stride. He and Lee seem destined to fight over a spot
  • Leslie McDonald, SG – has the appearance of a glue guy and scored 9 points in Wednesday's scrimmage
  • Mason Plumlee, PF – Has shown flashes and his size, versatility make him a good bet
  • Travis Releford, SG – hasn't been able to find his shooting range but attitude has been strong
  • Lance Stephenson, SF – they need his "A" game and approach. He'll also greatly benefit from McKillop's presence
  • Kemba Walker, PG – he's one of the big keys to the success of this team
  • David Wear, PF – got them thinking with 8 points Wednesday night
  • Travis Wear, PF – was Blue's best player with 9 points in nightcap
  • Wesley Witherspoon, SF – Creator, passer but needs to make shots

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