The United States men’s U19 team gave America a belated birthday present on Sunday, capturing the first back-to-back titles at the FIBA World Championships for the first time since 1983 as the Americans beat Croatia in overtime, 79-71.
The US men’s U19 team was solid throughout the tournament, defeating the likes of Italy and Greece in the quarterfinals and the semifinals, respectively, to earn a spot in the championship game Sunday. The matchup with Greece was supposed to be the team’s most difficult game so far at the FIBA U19 World Championships. Greece’s Tyler Dorsey and Georgios Papagiannis helped Greece stay in the game, but Jalen Brunson led the U.S. to victory with his 30-point performance.
Sunday’s championship match against Croatia was a rematch of a group play meeting, which the US won by a 22-point margin with a final score of 103-81. Croatia was adjusting to the loss of their best player, Dragan Bender, due to a sneaker dispute (he is sponsored by Adidas, but Croatia requires Jordan/Nike footwear). Croatia was also without their starting point gurard, Lovro Mazalin, and center, Ante Zizic, because of injury.
Sunday’s game against Croatia was nothing short of a dogfight. Team USA struggled offensively for a large part of the matchup with their Class of 2016 trio of stars going cold. Despite finishing the game in double figures, Jayson Tatum (13 points), Harry Giles (13 points, 16 rebounds), and Josh Jackson (10 points) combined to shoot 13-for-46 from the field on the day.
Villanova incoming freshman Jalen Brunson was outstanding for Team USA, scoring 14 points and adding 7 assists to his performance. On top of this much needed offense, Brunson never turned the ball over and played a team-high 40+ minutes. Louisville rising sophomore and big man Chinanu Onuaku also provided valuable minutes as an interior defender, scoring 6 points and adding 8 rebounds and 4 blocks to his performance.
After regulation ended with the game tied at 67, the American pressure defense finally started to wear out the short-handed Croatian team. The U.S. opened OT with a 10-0 run and even without Jackson, who had fouled out in the last few seconds of regulation, had plenty of depth to handle the tired Croatian team.
Croatia’s Nik Slavica led the team with 23 points, while point guard Marko Aropovic had 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Brunson was rewarded for his fantastic performance throughout the tournament with the title of MVP, and his second FIBA gold medal, as he had previously won last year’s championship with the U18 team. Brunson was also named to the All-Tournament Team along with Harry Giles, Tyler Dorsey (Greece/Oregon), Furkan Korkmaz (Turkey) and Marko Aropovic (Croatia).
Villanova coach Jay Wright should be extremely pleased with Brunson’s performance, given the fact that he was leading a team of college bound basketball players. This experience will make Brunson a better and more competitive player, especially against non-conference opponents. He will also broaden Villanova’s bench, and possibly its starting lineup as well, but only time will tell on that matter.
Not only is Brunson’s performance a good sign for Jay Wright, but it is also music to Villanova fans’ ears. The team’s strong performances the past two seasons have put Villanova back in the conversation regarding top programs, and Brunson will likely only improve that reputation.