Stanford junior small forward Josh Childress has spent an unusual summer thus far. In addition to individual workouts back in California, he made a trip to Colorado Springs (CO) in June for the first wave of USA Basketball tryouts for the 2003 Pan American Games Team. The 6'8" combo forward sparkled at those workouts and was favored by Team USA head coach Tom Izzo as one of the top three individuals at the tryouts. Then in July Childress traveled as one of 17 finalists to Orlando (FL) for a more than a week of tryouts and games. On the 25th, Childress and 11 others were named to the final team that is currently representing the United States in the Pan Am Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
"To be honest, it was a surprise," Childress says of his final selection. "There were so many guys who were playing so well that you didn't know who would make it. I'm definitely pleasantly surprised. It's an honor to play for Team USA, and it's a privilege to play with these other guys."
While the explosive Stanford forward may have had doubts about his chances to make the final cut, observers of the tryouts tabbed him a lock. Frank Burlison, the noted West Coast and national basketball analyst, watched what Childress did in Colorado Springs and could not hand out enough compliments.
"[Team USA head coach] Tom Izzo told me that Josh really surprised him - he did more things than he expected," Burlison relays. "In so many words, Izzo was saying that Josh was tougher than he expected. Josh and Hakim Warrick were the two most explosive players at the entire camp. He rebounded great, and there were 60 or 70 NBA guys there taking it all in. And he had the quickest first step of any player there - not of any wing or forward, but of any player. Just watching Josh you can tell he'll have a breakout junior year. He's All-American caliber."
The Los Angeles native is much more reserved with these kinds of superlatives, but he does admit one thing he did well to put himself on the final team. "I'm sure they were pleased that I rebounded. But really there were other guys who had great abilities on the boards, too," Childress ruminates. "The last Team USA didn't gel too well, so the coaches this time put an emphasis on the best team they could assemble. It worked because we gelled pretty quickly. There were problems early with turnovers, but that's come around."
And when conversation with this next Stanford All-American turned to his team, only the warmest of comments came forth. I asked about cliques formed by guys from certain conferences, or any East Coast vs. West Coast affairs. But Childress says that on-court rivalries have taken a back seat. "Coach Izzo is really emphasizing beat a team and not individuals," he responds. "Sure we have Pac-10 guys - with me, Ike Diogu and Luke Jackson - but it's never any smack between us and other guys. It's not like that. Now, we might talk trash inside the Pac-10 to each other, but that's all cool."
Some of that intraconference jibing came from his teammates from Tempe, rising sophomore Diogu. The two were roommates in Colorado Springs and then again in Orlando. "He's actually one of my really good friends," Childress admits. "That doesn't stop him from talking trash about how they are going to come into Maples and beat us next year. But I just give him crap about how he didn't box out last year." That comment is followed by a roar of laughter from Cardinal rebounding machine, as he reminisces about the free throw rebound and putback that won the game and shocked the home Arizona State crowd last winter.
Childress speaks also very highly of Diogu as a player, who provides some bruising battles inside. While the 200 pound Stanford man plays predominately as a wing in college basketball, he has spent time battling against some of the more traditional low post players because of the different nature of the international game. "The international game is totally different from what we know," he begins. "Coach Izzo looks at me for the four position because international four's are mostly wings."
A couple other players who drew praise from Childress were wing guards who played tough. "I was really impressed with Rickey Paulding. He just does everything well, which is different from the one-dimensional reputation I had heard," the Stanford forward notes. "The most intense guy is Brandon Mouton. He gets after it bigtime on both ends of the court. Having to guard him and Rickey, and having them guard me, has made me a smarter player. It makes me think more about what I have to do to make plays and make stops. I probably feel - no, I know that I'm getting better at guarding faster players. I'm thinking about the angles better."
Speaking of smarts, Childress sticks out in a college all-star environment like this - being the "Stanford guy" and all the stereotypes that may bring. He says it plays at least a small role in how teammates perceive him. "There's a lot of joking about that," he reveals. "It's cool sometimes, but it also can get on your nerves. Still everyone knows that Emeka Okafor is a really smart guy, too. All you can do is be yourself, and I think once people get to know me they realize I'm just a goofy dude."
All goofiness aside, the athletic wunderwing had a pair of very serious goals for this international experience. For one, he had never been outside the United States and wanted to take in all that the Dominican Republic would offer him. "I wanted to make the team, first, and then experience new things outside the country," he describes. "But the number one goal was a team goal. Team USA has been on a decline lately and we really wanted to be the rebirth. We wanted to get back to where it used to be."
Unfortunately, those golden dreams could not come true for this U.S. squad; they dropped to Brazil in the semifinals Tuesday night 92-80 after their South American opponents ripped off a 13-0 run to seal the deal at the end of the game. Childress and Team USA last night dropped a heartbreaker against Puerto Rico in the Bronze Medal game. Though team goals were not reached, and individual scoring was meager with limited minutes, the Stanford junior did a standout job on the boards. In just 9.6 minutes per game of player, Childress averaged 3.2 rebounds. He tied for 4th on the team in rebounds absolutely, and even more impressively led the entire U.S.A. squad in rebounds per 40 minutes (13.3). The next closest was Chuck Hayes with 10.4 boards per 40 minutes of play.
For all the stories and box scores from the week, click here for the USA Basketball Pan Am Games results page.
Though the competition experience is over for Childress in the Dominican Republic, he has been new places and made new friends. It is a summer to remember for the maturing Cardinal fan favorite. But he is already anxious to turn his sights back to The Farm, returning on August 25 for a full month of lifting and workouts before school begins. "I want all my teammates to know that I can't wait to get back," he broadcasts. "I'm ready to get going on winning that Pac-10 title!"
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