Watson among Junior finalists

Tennessee's C.J. Watson is among 16 finalists for the USA Basketball Junior World Chamionship Team.

Watson, who started every game as a freshman point guard for the Vols last season, survived the first cut, which followed three days of trials at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The finalists were selected by the USA Basketball Men's Collegiate Committee, which includes such high-profile coaches as Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Tubby Smith (Kentucky) and Jim O'Brien (Ohio State).

The finalists are:
Mohamed Abukar (Rancho Bernardo / Escondido, Calif.); Maurice Ager (Michigan State / Detroit, Mich.); James Augustine (Illinois / Mokena, Ill.); Brandon Bowman (Georgetown / Santa Monica, Calif.); Daniel Brown (Illinois / Maywood, Ill.); Paul Davis (Michigan State / Rochester, Mich.); Ryan Hollins (UCLA / Pasadena, Calif.); Daniel Horton (Michigan / Cedar Hill, Texas); Al Jefferson (Prentiss High School / Prentiss, Miss.); Brian Johnson (Bishop O'Connell High School, Va. / Glenarden, Md.); Jonathan Modica (Arkansas / Smackover, Ark.); Kevin Pittsnogle (West Virginia / Martinsburg, W.Va.); J.J. Redick (Duke / Roanoke, Va.); C.J. Watson (Tennessee / Las Vegas, Nev.); Deron Williams (Illinois / The Colony, Texas); and Kennedy Winston (Alabama / Prichard, Ala.).

Johnson's selection is contingent on him being medically cleared to compete in the USA training camp which starts June 24. Johnson suffered a sprained Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) in his left knee early in the first Trials session on Friday, May 30.

''There may not be a quote unqoute big name star like we had last year with Carmelo Anthony (who was a member of the 2002 USA Junior World Championship Qualifying Team), but what we have is a team that is really going to play hard. Play hard and focus together. And certainly one that is athletic. It seems that they have a tremendous focus on wanting to be successful in this tournament, and that is a real big positive for us,'' said USA junior team mentor and University of Oregon head coach Ernie Kent.

Of the 16 finalists, eight have participated in previous USA Basketball competitions including five members of last summer's Junior World Championship Qualifying Team that finished 4-1, earned the bronze medal and qualified the United States for the 2003 FIBA Junior World Championship. Members of the 2002 junior qualifying team selected as finalists were Abukar, Brown, Horton, Johnson and Williams. Also possessing prior USA Basketball experience are Davis (2001 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival), Modica (2001 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival) and Redick (2001 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival).

"I think that's going to be huge," commented Kent about the five returning members from last year's junior qualifying team, "particularly if all five make the team once we head out of Dallas. They're going to be able to not only handle the environment over there better having played in international competition, but more importantly, they're going to be able to educate the other players on what to expect and how to handle the international environment."

Seven of the USA team hopefuls -- Brown, Augustine, Horton, Modica, Pittsnogle, Redick and Watson -- claimed all-freshman team honors in their respective conference. Three of the finalists, Abukar, Jefferson and Johnson, competed at the high school level in 2002-03, with Jefferson and Johnson having completed their junior year in '03.

The official 12-member USA junior team will be finalized during the team's June 24-July 6 training camp which will be held in Dallas. In preparation for the Junior World Championship, Kent's squad will participate in the 2003 Global Games that are being conducted in Dallas. Featuring 10 teams, the USA will play five games between June 30-July 5.

Kent, who was head coach of the USA junior qualifying team last summer, will serve again as head mentor of the 2003 USA junior squad, he will be assisted by Dennis Felton of the University of Georgia and Ray Harper of Kentucky Wesleyan College.

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