Former Juneau-Douglas High School basketball star Carlos Boozer Jr. used the bitter remembrance of a failure to land a spot on Team USA for the 2001 FIBA World Championship for Young Men tournament Aug. 3-12 in Saitama, Japan.
Boozer was cut last year when he tried to make the U.S. team that went to the qualifying tournament in Brazil, and he used that failure as motivation during team tryouts this week in Dallas. This time Boozer's name was on the list when the team was announced Friday morning, and he joined the team when it traveled to Oakland, Calif., for more workouts before heading to Japan.
"I was trying to redeem myself from last year," Boozer said from his hotel room in Oakland. "Now I'm just going to try and represent the USA and win the gold medal.
Boozer, a junior who will be a center-power forward for NCAA champion Duke University this fall, has had a lot of success in his career. But he said last year's failure stayed with him as he joined the 45 players at the first round of tryouts in early June. That group was cut to 16 finalists and it was down to 13 when the final cut was made late Thursday night. The team is open to players born in 1980 or later.
"Definitely the cut was something that motivated me, and it's not often you have a chance to come back and try again," said Boozer, who was Team USA's second-leading scorer (13.5 points a game) and top rebounder (five rebounds per game) during two exhibitions with Lithuania and Yugoslavia during last week's tryout camp in Dallas. "I made the team and I'm playing real well. We haven't really played tough competition, but we're definitely looking real good."
Boozer was joined on Team USA by two teammates from Duke -- point guard Chris Duhon and swingman Dahntay Jones, who sat out last season following a transfer from Rutgers. The other Team USA members are Troy Bell of Boston College, Caron Butler of Connecticut, Nick Collison of Kansas, Brian Cook of Illinois, Reggie Evans of Iowa, Jason Kapono of UCLA, Jameer Nelson of St. Joseph's, Michael Sweetney of Georgetown and Marcus Taylor of Michigan State.
"This was an extremely difficult decision. I told the players that no one on this team deserved to be cut," said Team USA coach Jim Boeheim, the head coach of Syracuse University. "I wish we could take all 13 finalists to Japan. However, in international basketball only 12 players are allowed to compete. Our progress has been good and we've come together very quickly. But we still have a lot of work to do before the start of the World Championship for Young Men."
Last year Boozer said one of the reasons he was cut was because he was out of shape. This year he was better prepared.
"I'm tons better prepared. It's a 360-degree turnaround from last year," he said. "Last year I was out of shape, and this year I really worked hard to stay in shape. For Chris, Dahntay and I, this is a big season for us. We want to get back to the Final Four and win a national championship again, so this is a way of us getting ready for the upcoming season so we're ready when it starts. But we want to go over there and win the gold medal. The only reason to go over there is to win the gold."
The 12-team tournament is broken down into two six-team pools for round-robin pool-play, with the top teams from each pool advancing to the quarterfinals on Aug. 10. Team USA is in Pool B and plays Croatia on Aug. 3, South Korea on Aug. 4, Argentina on Aug. 5, Japan on Aug. 7 and Israel on Aug. 8. The teams in Pool A are Australia, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Qatar, Slovenia and Spain.
"The sky's the limit, whether you come from a small town like Juneau or a big town," Boozer said. "If you put your mind to it you can do it. I've been blessed to see where basketball has taken me, and it's definitely great to look at where you've come from. But I still have some places I want to go before I'm done."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
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