Their stay in Colorado Springs could hardly have started worse, but for Matt Haryasz and Chris Hernandez, the end of their week-long journey with USA Basketball at the U.S. Olympic Training Center is shaping up just grand. The pair of Stanford seniors found out Tuesday that they were among the 12 men selected to play for Team USA in the 2005 World University Games. The Games will take place August 12-21 in Izmir, Turkey.
Hernandez and Haryasz did not imagine they would make Tuesday's cut when they endured a difficult start last week in Colorado Springs. Both had snafus with their flights, sending the Stanford duo to the training facility just 45 minutes before the first practice began. They worked out the remainder of the day without a chance to eat a bite of food. And malnourishment was only half of the fatigue they battled to begin the Team USA trials.
"We put in the extra work with [Stanford strength & conditioning coach Juan Pablo Reggiardo] before we came here," Haryasz describes. "Two-a-days at this altitude take a lot out of you. As good of shape as you are at zero feet, at 6,000 feet it's a whole different ballgame. But Chris and I, the last couple days, really got our feet under us."
Hernandez is playing primarily the point guard position with Team USA, while Haryasz is dividing his time between both post positions. When he is on the floor at the same time as a Shelden Williams or Craig Smith, Haryasz plays the forward position. When a smaller lineup takes the court, Haryasz may be found manning the middle as the team's center.
During the trials of the last six days, the assembled players for the U.S. squad have partaken in double-day practices, plus scrimmages. Recently the team faced off against Air Force in one scrimmage. Today they expect to take the court together for the first time as their final 12-man unit, and will immediately face a daunting task as they play the Denver Nuggets.
"I cannot tell you how amazing this is," Haryasz comments on making the final U.S. roster. "I think I speak for me and Chris when I say we were honored just to be invited to participate in these trials, with all these incredible people and these incredible facilities. To make the team, though, is pretty amazing. I was just talking with my parents about it - how big this is to be a 21 year-old and to play for your country like this."
The Cardinal duo have to descend quickly from cloud nine, however, as they still have work to do in preparation of the fast-approaching World University Games. While many fans will ask about the offensive performances of Hernandez and Haryasz, there are no available statistics from the practices and scrimmages that have thus far been held. Moreover, there has been a more important focus for Team USA.
"We've put a lot of work into defense - man and press," Haryasz describes. "The offense is mostly motion. There are some stack sets. It's not really complicated stuff - just want to let guys make plays. We've really stressed defense, though. That's what we're going to hang our hat on with this team."
While Haryasz is crashing the boards, Hernandez is doing is best to help take control of the newly assembled team. It is a tall task to ask a point guard to orchestrate the show for a team with no history or chemistry together, but it helps having at least one teammate with three years of year-round experience.
"It's a lot different to set an on-ball screen for Chris versus somebody else - I know what he's going to do on almost any play," Haryasz comments. "We bring something different to the table."
"Chris has been doing a really good job, with his leadership and command," says Hernandez' Stanford and USA Basketball teammate. "He pushes the ball well and puts the ball where it needs to be. He has a good rapport with the coaches, and the guys look to him."
This is the second stint for Hernandez with USA Basketball, having taken part in the Men's Youth Development Festival in June 2000. This is the first experience for Haryasz with USA Basketball. Both will leave North America for the first time when they depart for Turkey on Friday.
Games will be played in Izmir, Turkey from August 12-21. Team USA is in Group F of the 32-team tournament and start their play against Iran on August 12. The following two days they will play Slovakia and Germany to complete their first round of pool play, to be followed by a secondary round of two more games on August 16 & 17. The quarterfinals take place August 18. The semifinals are played August 19, with the finals on August 21.
The World University Games are held every two years, though the U.S. broke with tradition in not officially sending a squad the last time around in 2003. Team USA has amassed a dominating all-time record of 119-17, though their streak of six straight gold medals was broken for a bronze in 2001 when they were edged by a star-studded China team in the semifinals.
The last time, and only time, a Stanford man played for Team USA in the World University Games was when Mark Madsen suited up in the red, white & blue on the 1999 gold medal team. To be eligible to play in the World University Games, an athlete must be a U.S. citizen currently eligible at his university.
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