After a hot start to the U19 USA Basketball camp, Kansas State freshman DaJuan Gordon walked in to the coaches’ office for their decision on whether he made the final cut to compete for the nation in Greece at the FIBA World Cup.
Gordon, a 6-foot-3 combo guard, didn’t make it, but during his exit interview, one of the coaches said something that jumped out to K-State coach Bruce Weber.
“No one knew you when you got here,” the coach said. “Two years from now, you’ll probably be better than most of these guys.”
Gordon left camp in Colorado Springs and got back to work at K-State. The Wildcats’ highest-rated recruit out of its 2019 class, according to 24/7 Sports and Rivals, Gordon talked often with Weber from halfway across the world.
Weber said that every time he got on the phone with his promising freshman, Gordon was in the gym working on his craft. The transition has had its challenges for Gordon, with homesickness and tough workouts, but he is learning, he said.
“It’s more about becoming a man down here,” Gordon said. “You’re not going to get babied like you were babied in high school. It’s more responsibility.”
Gordon was one of the “middle guys” at camp, Weber said, but it helped him return to Manhattan with more confidence. Weber said Gordon’s ceiling has risen in his eyes through the whole experience.
“The first time we saw him back in high school, he was somebody we wanted,” Weber said. “And now he’s a hooper. He loves the game. He’s worked on his shot.”
Weber said it wasn’t easy watching his player get cut from the squad traveling to Greece, but as the coach of the U19 team, there was still a tournament to win.
Two years ago, the U.S. was upset in Cairo, losing to Canada in the semifinals and watching the neighbors to the north win the World Cup title. Weber said the pressure he felt to uphold the USA Basketball brand was heavy.
“To get the gold medal, to hear the national anthem, to be up on that medal stand, it’s definitely a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Weber said. “I’ll tell you, I’m dead tired. My wife will tell you I never say I’m tired, but I told people, ‘Please wake me up if you see me falling asleep.’ “
The U.S. went 3-0 in group play and cruised through the first two knockout rounds against Latvia and Russia. The U.S. won 102-67 against Lithuania in the semifinals and held off a strong first half from Mali to win the final, 93-79.
The U.S. U19 team is now 98-14 all-time. Weber said the crowds always favored the underdogs, but he welcomed the worldly experience to lead a team through a global tournament.
“Our hotel was with Russia and Senegal, but we were in a little village,” he said. “You’d be walking, the France coach would be there and then you’re talking to Lithuania. They all love basketball; they all want to talk basketball.
“But they all wanted to beat the Americans.”
New Barry, Dean and Kamau?
The 2019 freshmen sat down for their first media session since becoming Wildcats and talked about the group of seniors they were there to potentially someday replace.
Last year was a special group of three seniors who all will continue their basketball careers whether in the NBA or overseas. Dean Wade agreed to a contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Barry Brown and the Minnesota Timberwolves reached the Summer League championship game. And Kamau Stokes holds European offers to play, Weber said.
The Wildcats’ three freshman in the class of 2019 all, at least to some degree, have games that resemble those three.
DeJuan Gordon already has USA Basketball experience and can get to the basket like Brown did. Antonio Gordon, a 6-9 forward, will be called upon to play Wade’s role from a year ago as a stretch big. And Montavious Murphy will do much of the same standing the same height and adding a wealth of versatility.
They all have professional basketball ambitions, and Weber said they all have professional basketball potential. But first they will have to accept their roles. Weber expects all three to play this season.
“That depth has got to come forth if we are going to be successful,” Weber said.
Old Cats set to show new tricks
Playing professional basketball overseas sounds more like vacation, traveling the world and playing the game that has given athletes so much.
But former Wildcat Thomas Gipson said it’s a gift and a curse.
“A lot of times my games at 2 in the afternoon were at 2 in the morning for my mother,” fellow former Wildcat Martavious Irving said. “It’s fun because you’re still playing the game, but it’s hard being away from family and them not being able to see you and watch you.”
Competing again in The Basketball Tournament, or TBT, K-State alumni will look to win $2 million while getting the group back together.
These Cats and others will get the chance to not only play in the same time zone as their families but even the same state where they played their college ball starting Thursday at Wichita’s Koch Arena.
The camaraderie among the group is lighthearted but strong. When Irving and Johnson started fielding interview questions, Gipson popped in late and joked they were going to do interviews without him. Irving said he is confident this year’s group of professionals can win.
Irving played this past season in Indonesia and Shanghai, halfway across the Earth. Gipson was in Finland and Turkey. And DJ Johnson, who was a senior at K-State during the 2016-17 season, played in Korea and Mexico.
- Marquis Addison
- Justin Edwards
- Marcus Foster
- Thomas Gipson
- Martavious Irving
- DJ Johnson
- Curtis Kelly
- Jevon Thomas
- Akeem Wright
One scholarship left
K-State has posted its roster for the 2019-20 season, but Weber has one scholarship left in his pocket.
Weber said he is keeping his eyes and ears open to add another player before the school year starts Aug. 26.
Weber said once classes begin, the roster will be finalized.
“We’d still like somebody,” Weber said. “We talk about it every day. Coaches are always talking to national guys, ‘Is there a (reclassification)? Is there somebody who transfers last second?’ Those (general managers) in the NBA make last-minute deals. Maybe we’ll make a last-minute deal.”