Whenever the spring time arrives after the high school basketball season, it’s just always another reminder of how the sport has clearly transformed into a year-long activity now. Looking back on decades ago, student-athletes likely competed during the winter school season and spent the other eight months of their year either training or participating in some other activity. Nowadays, we have plenty of other basketball-related happenings to compose the offseason: travel tournaments, elite camps, team camps, all-star events, summer leagues, you name it. Among those is also the presence of USA Basketball; a non-profit organization that has existed since 1974 and holds the responsibility of selecting/training players to partake in international competition, representing the United States.

Many may initially perceive USA Basketball as the team that contains all of the professional NBA players but the organization traces down to the youth level also. The country has recently held rosters loaded with special talent on their men’s U16 U19 National Team and U19 World Cup Team. Both teams ended up victorious in capturing the gold for the respective divisions, as U16 got the deed done over Canada last month on June 9th while U19 took down Mali for the title on July 7th. Coach Del Harris, the head honcho of Collegiate School’s (Richmond, VA) varsity program, started his own involvement with the youth side of the organization a few years ago and had another special opportunity back in late-May, working as a court coach for the U16 Training Camp. A few days earlier (5/18 – 5/19), Collegiate hosted the inaugural USA Basketball Boys Gold Camp, featuring some of the top prospects in grades seventh and eighth. Harris had a busy week in the latter half of May, as he was the sole representative of Richmond during that participation this past spring. Humbly, he spoke highly of the experience and detailed some key facets of USA Basketball that not everyone may already know.

 

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For starters, similar to most situations that involve sought-out opportunities, Harris will acknowledge that getting one’s foot in the door starts with expressing interest in helping out any way possible. He can recall sacrificing his own time to perform volunteerism when first making that tie-in with USA Basketball.

“Well, everything is a volunteer-basis,” the three-year veteran Collegiate coach stated. “I just volunteered my time to help with a regional camp that I believe was held in Virginia Beach; Mike Jones (head varsity coach of DeMatha Catholic High School) was one of the lead coaches. So, I’ve just been volunteering my time and have been fortunate to do that for a couple of years.”

Close to around this time last year, in early August, a new decision in location saw a youth regional camp make its way to the 804; an occurrence that drew local attention and served Harris and the Collegiate Cougars well. It’s always more satisfying to have a headlined event happening right in your own backyard.

“They had a regional camp here (at Collegiate) last year, which was open to everyone. That was very good and I had the privilege to act as one of the lead coaches. Collegiate was nice enough to host, which was obviously great for our program. When you talk about doing something regionally, it was great for Richmond too. I’m a big Virginia guy, so that was an honor to have them here. It was around that time when the staff approached us about a ‘Gold Camp’ for the first time.”

I actually remember when I first heard word about that Gold Camp and had great interest in possibly covering it. Unfortunately, other obligations interfered and I wasn’t able to make an appearance. Nevertheless, the May weekend brought great success with it and USA Basketball continued to exemplify their approach of ‘doing it the right way:’ fundamentals, high character, showing respect, teaching the game properly, and more.

“We learned the Gold Camp was more of an advanced setting that included some of the top seventh and eighth graders throughout the country. So, this wasn’t really regional anymore; we had guys arriving from all over. That was another honor for Collegiate to host that and how it was also held in Richmond for its opening year. Again, me being a Virginia guy, it was all awesome. It didn’t really function like a ‘Top 100’ camp or anything like that but there was still a selection process that the players had to go through.”

“The camp itself involved a lot of teaching…definitely a lot of teaching. Areas such as breaking down how to move without the ball and make others better, which I thought was really good. There was also an introduction to some of the things they do on the junior national teams. Parents had the opportunity to listen in on seminars, while former national team assistant coaches explained what it means to be a part of USA Basketball and what it takes to reach this level. That, along with advice on how to better yourself as a player and citizen.”

*Photo by Joe Stasyszyn

 

It all absolutely sounded like a necessary two days for those young prospects. I’m sure the majority of players in attendance took something away from all of the lessons taught. Still, hoopers in that age range typically fascinates me for multiple reasons. The main one centers on how they’re able to stay level-headed in knowing they have all that talent in such a youthful stage. Some show an ability to handle it better than others but finding yourself in the spotlight during those early years always comes with a ton of attention, whether desired or not. For these aforementioned seventh and eighth graders, I think it’s most imperative for them to not become content in this moment of time; a notion I brought up in my recent article, ‘What Does it Mean to Get ‘Offered?’ (7/17). Harris himself will agree.

“They just need to know how hard they must continue to work. Being in the seventh and eighth grade, they honestly haven’t done anything yet. You know, it’s great that you’re off to a good start, being 6’7”/6’8” at that age, but you have to keep getting better. You have to keep being coachable and a good teammate. I think a lot of that was relayed to those kids. Detailing what it takes to be successful at each next level and not getting too far ahead of yourself.”

A mere couple of days after the conclusion of the Gold Camp, Harris had his phone buzzing for yet another upcoming occasion: the U16 National Team training camp. The opportunity would force him to travel farther past his own high school this time, heading down to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Knowledge of the training camp’s structure wasn’t anything relatively new for Harris, considering he’s made trips in the past to check out the competitive atmosphere.

“I had been to one of those training camps before, the one held in Colorado Springs, as an observer. I just wanted to watch and learn how the inter-workings work…you always want to continue to grow in the game. Then, I was fortunate enough to get a call. Again, I was very humbled and honored by it; I think I’m one of the first guys ever from this immediate area of Richmond. I consider that as a serious honor when you think about the Richmond players who have been involved with USA Basketball on the National Team level. Guys like Armando Bacot, Jr. ’19 and Isaiah Todd ’20 are two of the most recent guys. So, it shows how talented you have to be on that stage. I feel honored as a coach to be alongside others like Mike Jones, Steve Turner of Gonzaga College High School and Eric Flannery of St. Edward High School, to name a few.”

A total of 32 prospects ended up arriving for the eight-day training camp (May 22 – 29), held at NOVA Southeastern University. An announcement of the finalists happened on May 25th. Going through a situation of picking and choosing players who would fit best proved as one of, if not, the most challenging aspect for Harris and the other staff members. Tryouts are rarely ever easy for coaches of any sport, especially when there’s plenty of talent in front of them.

“We (the court coaches) mainly helped with coaching the teams, breaking down drills for different positions, and also implementing the offense that they would run; seeing how quickly guys could pick up on things. So, it was basically a 3-4 day process of tryouts. We were able to give our input and try to help make the best selections possible, which turned out as unbelievably tough. All of those kids are so talented. Hopefully, they’ll be returning in the future to try out again.”

“Training camp involved two games played each day. You know, you want to be able to evaluate the kids by seeing them get up and down the floor. It really wasn’t that open to the public, outside of media members. We also had many film sessions to test how well guys could execute and defend in a specific strategy. There has to be a lot of teaching because teams like Canada and others are very skilled with fundamentals. We can’t solely rely on our athleticism…we have to know how to play the right way. In all, everything was well-organized and detailed. I learned a lot as a coach, personally. I felt I got better in those 3-4 days alone.

Similar to the Gold Camp, participants of the U16 training camp heard much from the coaches in regards to ways of improving in many on-court areas. Still, the staff made sure to heavily detail what it truly means to wear those three letters of U-S-A across one’s chest. It goes far beyond representing a team, but an entire country.

“One of our biggest things is the ‘Gold Standard,’ which focuses on all types of representation. How you represent yourself, the United States, your family, your high school, and on. That’s a big responsibility for both the players and us, as coaches. Everybody holding on to that Gold Standard is important.”

 

Those values remind me of what’s instilled in Harris’ own varsity program, based off of what I saw last season. I noticed elements of selfless team play, encouragement, and professionalism all amongst the Cougars. Harris’ infectious energy and passion seems to feed off on his players and his guys definitely know how to respond by playing to their best ability. Definitely a well-deserved achievement by him to earn recognition from the USA Basketball crew. If the organization comes by knocking again in the future, he can guarantee that most likely zero signs of hesitation will occur.

“If I’m fortunate and blessed enough to be invited back for volunteer work, I’ll be on the first plane trip available. It was just a great experience again to be around those high-level players. Regardless of what happens, I know that I learned a lot and will cherish those memories for a lifetime. Wearing those colors of red, white, and blue mean something special and I’ll represent USA Basketball wherever I go.”

 

 

 

 

If you haven’t had a chance to watch Harris coach up his Collegiate squad or Team Richmond Garner Road 17u Elite, during the travel season, I definitely recommend doing so. One of my favorite coaches to watch, personally. Congrats to the success of USA Basketball’s youth teams this summer!