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The most important day of Sterling Gibbs' sophomore year featured a workload few would envy.
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"I had final exams Thursday; four of them," he sighed. "That's OK at least they're over."
The dreaded cumulative exams at Seton Hall Prep (West Orange, N.J.) are traditionally difficult at the all-male Catholic college preparatory school, but really, four in one day?
Last Thursday, Gibbs tackled finals in history, French, theology and English, clearing out his schedule for USA Basketball.
It will be a different kind of test for Gibbs and 20 of the nation's premier players from the classes of 2011 and 2012 as the inaugural USA Men's Developmental Team trials tip off Saturday in Colorado Springs, Colo.
At stake is a berth on the U16 national team which competes in the 2009 FIBA American championships from June 17-21 in Mendoza, Argentina.
Gibbs, an all-state selection who averaged 16 points and four assists, is a prototypical point guard. At 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, he's considered a floor general with a pass-first mentality with the ball, and a pest on the defensive end.
"Defense is important in basketball, but it's really stressed on the international level," said U16 head coach Don Showalter of Mid-Prairie High (Wellman, Iowa). "Whereas American players are used to pick-and-rolls, it's different in other countries, where they'll use pick-and-pops. It's our job to prepare them for anything thrown at us."
Showalter and assistants Herman Harried of Lake Clifton (Baltimore) and Kevin Sutton of Montverde (Fla.) Academy will have their work cut out for them, as they'll trim the roster to 12 by Monday.
"That's a great staff," said Paul Biancardi, ESPN's national recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. "The players will be in good hands; they're all good teachers."
Showalter said Harried, who was a standout at Syracuse and played professionally in Europe, will handle the bigs, while Sutton will coach the guards.
Gibbs is in select company this weekend.
Included in the trials are: Justin Anderson, Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.); Kyle Anderson, Paterson (N.J.) Catholic; Bradley Beal, Chaminade (St. Louis); K.C. Caudill, Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.); Angelo Chol, Hoover (San Diego); Quinn Cook, DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.); Andre Drummond, Capital Prep (Hartford, Conn.); Perry Ellis, Wichita Heights (Wichita, Kan.); Brandon Kearney, Southeastern (Detroit); James McAdoo, (Norfolk (Va.) Christian); Johnny O'Bryant, East Side (Cleveland, Miss.); Tony Parker, Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.); Norvel Pelle, Dominguez (Compton, Calif.); Chasson Randle, Rock Island (Ill.); L.J. Rose, Second Baptist School (Houston); Mike Shaw, De La Salle (Chicago); Marquis Teague, Pike (Indianapolis); Adonis Thomas, Melrose (Memphis); Kevin Ware, Rockdale County (Conyers, Ga.); and Anthony Wroten Jr., Garfield (Seattle).
The talent pool runs deep.
Four of the invitees are in the ESPN Terrific 25 (Class of 2012), led by 6-8 Ellis who is the Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year, and the No. 2 overall prospect. Eleven players from the ESPN 60 (Class of 2011) are at USA Basketball's facility, including McAdoo, the No. 3 prospect.
The top two rising juniors -- 6-8 Michael Gilchrist of St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) and Florida-bound 6-3 Austin Rivers of Winter Park (Fla.) -- were invited but won't be attending.
Here's a review of five key international rules that differ from the American high school game:
# Game duration is 40 minutes, four quarters; five minutes per overtime
Gilchrist is not attending due to his upcoming exam schedule but is still eligible for next year's U17 team, which will compete at the FIBA World Championships in Hamburg, Germany.
Wroten, a versatile 6-5 guard who's looking at schools including Villanova, Seton Hall, Maryland, Washington and Louisville, will practice with the team but cannot attend the U16 competition in Argentina.
Team USA was placed in Group A along with Brazil, Puerto Rico and Venezuela; while Group B consists of host Argentina, the Bahamas, Canada and Mexico. The tournament format has the top two teams from each preliminary group advancing to the semifinals June 20. The gold-medal game is June 21. The top three finishing nations will qualify to compete in the 2010 FIBA U17 World Championship.
"One of the things that we need to do from the start is make it clear that this is about building a team. We're not playing an all-star game," Showalter said. "We have to make sure the kids understand about how difficult the competition is going to be. It's not like we're going out and playing another AAU team or just another tournament. It's a very, very high level of competition."
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Biancardi, who coached several players who went onto international competition, felt the creation of the U16 competition will benefit USA Basketball.
"It'll be a feeder system for the U19 team all the way up to the USA Olympic team," he said. "It's tremendous for our programs, and the players will get great coaching and learn about the international game. At this time of the year there's not a lot of teaching the game; the tryouts will develop cohesiveness and chemistry."
The players arrived at the training facility in Colorado Springs on Friday and will have double sessions Saturday and Sunday and a final practice Monday before Showalter and his staff will announce the 12 players who will leave June 13 for Argentina.
Once the team is finalized Monday afternoon, the team will have a week of practice before departing.Gibbs, who has international experience after playing with a group of New York City area players in April in France, said the rule changes and style contrast the American game.
"Better watch using your hands; any contact and the officials will call a foul," Gibbs said. "We're used to a physical game, and a longer game [40 minutes] usually leaves you tired. Conditioning becomes important."
Making the players understand the rules will be key for Showalter, but he also won't let them forget the privilege of playing on the international level.
"Any time you can represent your country in competition, it's an honor. I'm humbled by the chance to coach in this inaugural competition," Showalter said.
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball, and boys' and girls' basketball. He also worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, for which he ran the Gatorade national Player of the Year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.