Top teams compete for international prize
Myck Kabongo is counting the days. He's looked forward to the 2009 Nike Global Challenge since he was tapped for Canadian team duty.
Kabongo, a 6-foot-2 guard, is nearly two weeks into the summer term of his junior year at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J.
"Sounds like a drag [summer term], but I'm used to it," he said.
He's already up for a break in classes such as black history, Spanish and public speaking to don the red and white maple leaf-crested jersey of the Canadian team.
The six-nation, eight-team bracket, playing under FIBA rules, tips off Friday afternoon at Liberty High in Hillsboro, Ore., with a quadrupleheader. The USA Midwest hosts Senegal, followed by Kabongo's Canadians against FMP-Serbia. The Americans will field three teams, each with 10 top-flight high school players. Rounding out the bracket are an All-Asia team and Brazil.
The three-day, 12-game tournament concludes Sunday with the title game at 11 p.m. and the third-place contest at 9 p.m.
Kabongo, who is committed to the University of Texas, is the No. 4-rated point guard in the ESPNU 60 and is a dervish with the ball.
This summer, he played with the Canadian national team at a competition in Spain. Once he finishes classes Thursday afternoon, Kabongo and high school teammate and fellow Torontonian Jean-Paul Kambola will board a transcontinental flight to Portland, where they'll acquaint themselves with a new set of teammates, coached by Roy Rano of Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute in Toronto.
Kabongo, whose family immigrated to Toronto from Zaire when he was 6 years old, is familiar with most of his teammates.
"My approach is 'follow my lead.' Some of these guys have played together and some might be shy shooting because they aren't familiar with one another, but I'll make sure we all fit in."
"Tristan is my best friend; we're brothers," Kabongo said. "Junior [Cadougan] was my big brother. When we were growing up he was the biggest thing to hit Canadian basketball; he's a great player."
The 6-9 Thompson -- No. 2 in the ESPNU 100 and bound for Texas -- and Kabongo were teammates at St. Benedict's until last February when Thompson transferred to Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.).
Thompson, a Brampton, Ontario, resident (suburban Toronto), averaged 8.6 points and 5.9 rebounds for the Canadian U19 National Team, which took seventh at the FIBA U19 World Championships last month in Auckland, New Zealand.
He's not the only elite North American player in the tournament. Twenty-two of the 24 American rising seniors are ESPNU 100 players, including top-ranked Harrison Barnes of Ames (Iowa).
The Global Challenge is the culmination of the summer season. The players were chosen based on their performance at the Nike events King City Classic, LeBron James Skills Academy and the preceding positional skills academies with NBA stars Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Vince Carter and Amare Stoudemire.
"Any time you play against the world, you want to see where you stack up," said Memphis-bound guard Will Barton, who will attend Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, N.H.) in the fall. "This experience is great; it's an honor to be a part of it."
Barton, a Baltimore native, will play for the USA East squad.
Here is more information on the eight participating teams vying for the gold medal.
USA East: The East, coached by Steve Turner of Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.), is loaded with a plethora of high-end guards. Most coaches would embrace penciling in Barton, Kyrie Irving of St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.), Josh Selby of Lake Clifton (Baltimore) and Syracuse-bound Dion Waiters of Life Center (Burlington, N.C.). "We have a good mix of players who can push the ball and score," Turner said.
Tobias Harris, a forward from Long Island, has blown up this summer. The trio of Barton, Selby and 6-8 wing Roscoe Smith of Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) are Baltimore standouts. Junior Trevor Cooney of Sanford School (Hockessin, Del.), a 6-4 long-range sniper, is being targeted by several schools, notably Villanova.
USA Midwest: Jim Gosz, the coach of Rufus King (Milwaukee), is blessed with an abundance of wing players, featuring Barnes and Illinois-bound Jereme Richmond of Waukegan (Ill.). The bigs -- 6-11 Perry Jones of Duncanville (Texas) and 6-9 Adreian Payne of Jefferson (Dayton, Ohio) -- are an advantage, especially against the international squads. Jones, a Baylor recruit, might have made the biggest strides this summer, according to ESPN analysts.
USA West/South: The average height of the 10-player roster is nearly 6-6. A cluster of tall guards, led by 6-4 North Carolina-bound Kendall Marshall of Bishop O'Connell (Arlington, Va.) and four wings that all measure 6-8 will help coach Michael Peck of Findlay Prep.
James Johnson of Morse (San Diego) is the team's tallest at 6-10, but 6-8 C.J. Leslie of World of God (Raleigh, N.C.) is the most prolific athlete. Florida-bound Austin Rivers, a shooting guard from Winter Park (Fla.), is the No. 2 junior in the ESPNU 60.
Canada: The neighbors to the north placed third last year and are looking for more this time. Seven of the 11 players are Ontario provincial residents, including several who play for the AAU powerhouse Grassroots Canada. Laurent Rivard, a 6-5 wing from St. Bruno, Quebec, played for the U19 team this summer in New Zealand.
Kyle Wiltjer, a skilled 6-8 combo forward, attends nearby Jesuit (Portland) and has dual American-Canadian citizenship. The rising junior is considering schools such as San Francisco, Gonzaga and Oregon State.
Brazil: The Brazilians are loaded. The bulk of the squad, nine of the 11, comprised the Brazil U16 National Team, which took fifth at the 2009 FIBA Americas Championships at Mendoza, Argentina, in June. At the tournament, the gold-medal-winning U.S. U16 Team beat Brazil 110-82 in pool play.
The team's top all-around player is Gustavo Scaglia De Paula. He's surrounded by Leonardo Simoes Mendl, Igor Avelino and Murilo Nocetti Veloso.
All-Asia: Coached by Aussie Rob Beveridge, the squad is comprised of select players from Nike's All-Asia Camp this spring. Three of the players -- 6-4 Igor Hadziomerovic, 6-4 Anthony Drmic and 6-8 Daniel Trist -- are from Australia. The seven-player Chinese contingent features height from 7-0 Dayu Zhang and 7-1 Muhao Li. The team plays USA East on Friday at 11 p.m. ET.
Senegal: The African entrant is from the Nike SEEDs Academy. Six of the players are 6-7 or taller, including Baye Moussa Keita, a 6-11, 205-pound center, who attends Oak Hill Academy and committed to Syracuse. The team is coached by Madeine Fall and opens with the USA Midwest.
Serbia: FMP Zeleznik Beograd, a club team from the Balkan country, won the Euroleague junior tournament to qualify. The Serbs tangle with Canada in the opening round. They are coached by Aleksandar Glisic. The top club, which plays in the Serbian-A League, is highly decorated and has ties to the Serbian national teams.
Last year FMB defeated an American team 74-73, advancing to the semifinals. None of the players from that Serb team are on this year's roster. The three tallest players -- Nikola Siladji, Milan Milovanovic and Milos Djordjevic -- are 6-7.
"There's no other event like it," said Mike Hackman, Nike's Elite Youth Basketball Director. "There's impressive talent on the U.S. side, with not much drop-off when you go to the bench. This event culminates a busy summer and showcases players at an international exposure event.
"Most players here are living out a dream. For most, it's their first time in the United States. The international players want to see how they compare to the U.S. The American players want to experience the international game."
Kabongo, who ping-pongs between the American high school game and FIBA rules, concludes the American game stresses "isolation and individual, with an up tempo."
As for the FIBA style, he's said, "It's about the team. You set screens and down screens; lots of motion. It's going to be competitive. We're here to win and bring Canada back."
Added Turner, coach of the USA East Team, "I'll stress team play. If we play unselfish and share the ball, we'll do well."
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.
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