The 2008 USA Basketball Men’s U18 National Team (4-1) never stopped trying to fight back from an early deficit, but in the end fell to host Argentina (5-0) 77-64 on Friday night at the 2008 FIBA Americas Under 18 Championship in Formosa, Argentina. Kemba Walker, who will suit up for the University of Connecticut in the fall, led all scorers with 21 points and was named the tournament MVP.
Alabama basketball signee JaMychal Green of St. Jude High School in Montgomery had his second consecutive double-double with 10 points and a game-best 14 rebounds.
Also scoring in double digits were Malcolm Lee (John W. North H.S. / Riverside, Calif.) with 13 points, and Travis Releford (Bishop Miege H.S. / Shawnee Mission, Kan.) with 12.
The U.S. now stands at 33-2 in FIBA Americas U18 Championship play and has won four gold medals, one silver and one bronze medal in six competitions.
Canada (3-2) took the bronze medal with an 83-68 win over Puerto Rico (2-3), Venezuela (3-2) finished fifth after defeating Uruguay (2-3) 74-63, while Mexico (1-4) came in seventh after notching its first win, a 72-71 overtime victory over Bahamas (0-5).
“I’m very proud about how we fought the entire game,” said USA and Davidson College head coach Bob McKillop. “Even the energy, the fight that we had up until the last buzzer made me very proud. Every one of our guys has gotten better from this experience. It’s a totally different environment than they’ve ever been in before. We’ve been together 18 days, had a travel experience that will be unforgettable, memories of playing in a championship game for a gold medal in a very hostile environment will be something they can build their college futures upon and hopefully their futures with USA Basketball. To come here and play as hard as we did for these five games leaves me very impressed with these young men.”
Playing in front of a standing room only crowd that was filled well beyond the arena’s capacity of 5,000, Argentina fed off of the fans from the opening tip and ran out to a 20-11 lead with 3:15 left in the first quarter. In a game of runs, each time the United States pulled close the South Americans responded right back and by the end of the first quarter the hosts were up 26-18.
The second quarter was a defensive clinic by both teams as the U.S. outscored Argentina 10-9 and trailed 35-28 at the halftime buzzer.
The U.S. came out in the second half and chipped away at the gap, pulling to 39-34 at 7:19. Argentina hit a three and Lee followed with a layup and at 6:13 the score stood at 42-36. However, that was as close as the USA would come as Argentina reeled off 11 consecutive points to go up 53-36. Each time the USA attempted to stab back, Argentina would come up with a miracle play, including a 75-foot heave at the buzzer to close the third period up 59-43.
"There had to be at least six shots that I have no idea how they went in,” said McKillop. “They flat out made them, at the end of the third quarter, that 75-foot 3-pointer, the whirling dervish layups that went in off the glass. Every time we tried to make a run they answered with some kind of play, some kind of basket that knocked us back on our heels. That’s a credit to them. They’re a very talented team, they play very tough and they were deserving champions today.”
Never giving up, the North Americans battled play in and play out, but the deficit was too much to overcome and in the end the USA was awarded the silver medal.
“I think we did a pretty good job,” said Walker. “We made it to the championship, we played as a team throughout the whole tournament. To be together 18 days, I think we did an excellent job. That team’s been together for two years and they outplayed us. But we’re going to come back next year and try to get it done.”
The U.S., which had trouble hitting the basket, was contested on nearly every single shot of the night and finished the game shooting 35.9 percent (23-64 FGs) from the field.
Virginia Commonwealth University head coach Anthony Grant and Georgetown University head coach John Thompson III are serving as assistant coaches.