UConn's Jeremy Lamb is the son of a motivational speaker—his father, Rolando, travels the country promoting the A-Game Success System—but he is not predisposed to making speeches of his own. Thus he was caught off-guard when, after being named to the U.S. Under-19 team in June, coach Paul Hewitt asked him to address the squad on what it takes to win an NCAA championship.
Lamb talked about how the 2010--11 Huskies removed barriers between teammates and banded together to win their final 11 games, including the national championship final. Hewitt praised the speech, while U19 team member Patric Young, a 6'9" post player who took a public speaking class this past year as a freshman at Florida, rated it "a six out of 10"—acceptable, but with plenty of room for improvement.
At the FIBA U19 World Championships in Latvia a week later, the U.S. started 5--0 to earn the top seed in the medal rounds, where it was upset by a middling Russia squad and eventually finished fifth out of 16 teams. But this disappointing result has a silver lining: The U.S. team members received a high-pressure education that should inspire several members to have breakout seasons Stateside.
The prime candidate is Lamb, who embraced the scorer's role in Latvia. The 6'5" combo guard can seem sleepy: "There were times in camp where I wondered, Does this kid want to be here?" Hewitt says. "But I got to see how competitive he is; before we played Lithuania, he was going around firing up everyone." Lamb scored 35 in the U.S.'s overtime win, and he led the team with 16.2 points over the six games. He looks ready to take over for Kemba Walker, the No. 9 overall NBA draft pick, as the Huskies' No. 1 offensive option.
If Lamb uses the U19s as a launching pad to an All-America season, will the players who passed on this trip—29 in all, including four each from North Carolina and Kentucky—be filled with regret? After all, four of the top seven picks in the 2011 NBA draft were internationals, so it's disappointing that so many Americans chose shoe-company camps over a chance to see some of the world's best prospects firsthand. "The guys that didn't come," Hewitt says, "it's their loss."
Meyers Leonard, a 7-foot center for Illinois, figured post players in the U19 tourney would be "soft," as he puts it, but he was surprised by their physicality and skill. He played just 8.2 minutes per game as a freshman, but his high-energy efforts in the U19s suggest he's bound for bigger things in the Big Ten.
Leonard's frontcourt mate, Young, who averaged 3.4 points and 3.8 boards for a veteran-dominated Gators squad in 2010--11, was the dunking star of the tournament (FIBA produced a video of his best slams), but he knows that his all-around post game, like Lamb's speech, has room to improve—especially when compared with that of Lithuania's Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors draftee who dominated every game as his team won the U19 gold medal and he was voted the tournament MVP. "He's the Number 5 pick, and I'm trying to go Number 5," Young says. "This showed me what teams are looking for." It was knowledge he couldn't have gained by staying home.
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GO-TO GUY Lamb led the U.S. team in scoring and helped prepare himself to take over the Huskies next season.