John Calipari and three of his University of Kentucky basketball players are immersing in the global game this summer.
Freshmen Hamidou Diallo and PJ Washington and sophomore Tai Wynyard and the UK head coach are in Cairo, Egypt, for the FIBA U19 World Cup.
Teams have been training in Cairo all week and open World Cup play Saturday. Washington and Diallo play for Calipari’s United States team. Wynyard is representing New Zealand.
Since basketball never stops for the Big Blue Nation, even when it’s played on the other side of the world, here’s a primer for the event:
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Wynyard’s New Zealand squad plays the first game of the World Cup, at 7 a.m. EDT Saturday against South Korea. Watch it live at http://bit.ly/2t8CepJ.
The U19 World Cup was first staged in 1979 in Brazil and was held every four years. Since 2009, the event has been played every two years. The United States has won six of the 12 gold medals, including the past two — in 2013 with a team led by Jahlil Okafor and Aaron Gordon and in 2015 with a squad led by Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Josh Jackson and Jalen Brunson. The U.S. also has three silver medals. No other country has won more than one gold medal, those being Serbia, Greece, Lithuania, Australia, Spain and the country formerly known as Yugoslavia.
The U.S. roster Calipari took to Egypt is youthful. It includes four players still in high school, three college freshmen-to-be and five college sophomores-to-be.
The 6-foot-5 Diallo has yet to play a college game but spent a semester at Kentucky last spring practicing with the Wildcats. The 18-year-old Diallo has as much to gain from this trip as anyone on Team USA as he tries to prove he can be the leader of an almost entirely new Kentucky roster for the 2017-18 college season.
The 6-8 Washington, one of numerous long, versatile newcomers for the Wildcats, also will get the chance to earn Calipari’s trust under game conditions, which could give him a leg up back in Lexington.
The only other Team USA player who will be a college freshman this fall is 6-11 center Brandon McCoy (UNLV).
The five USA players with college experience are 6-foot Carsen Edwards of Purdue, 6-6 Kevin Huerter of Maryland, 6-2 Payton Pritchard of Oregon, 6-4 Josh Okogie of Georgia Tech and 6-9 Austin Wiley of Auburn. All five played significant college minutes last season. Okogie led Georgia Tech in scoring at 16.1 points per game. Edwards was also a double-figure performer, averaging 10.3 points at Purdue. Wiley contributed 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game for Auburn. Huerter (9.3 ppg) and Pritchard (7.4) add to Team USA’s experienced firepower.
The four players still in high school — all of whom Calipari is recruiting for UK — are 6-6 Romeo Langford of New Albany, Ind.; 6-3 Immanuel Quickley of Bel Aire, Md.; 6-7 Cameron Reddish of Norristown, Pa.; and 6-8 Louis King of Columbus, N.J.
“Every player on this team can play different positions and has different abilities,” Calipari said. “Whether they’re a point guard and a scorer or whether they’re a wing and a point guard, or a wing and a power player. We only took two true bigs, which is kind of dangerous. But, we decided that if we had to, we could go small and go zone. We could do it offensively and if they didn’t have a real big guy, we’d just go, ‘PJ, you just guard the guy. We’re going to go pick-and-rolls, inside pick-and-rolls and slips and you’re going to go play like a three anyway.’”
▪ UK newcomer Kevin Knox took part in last week’s Team USA training camp in Colorado but withdrew from the team after suffering a hamstring injury. Bol Bol, the 7-foot-2 son of former NBA player Manute Bol, did not make the cut but does have a scholarship offer from UK. Incoming Western Kentucky freshman Mitchell Robinson and Duke sophomore-to-be Marques Bolden were other notable cuts.
“This is a really hard process,” Calipari said after the training camp. “But it wasn’t just me selecting these guys, USA Basketball is involved. This was done by committee, and it went back and forth. Everybody was giving opinions. We went to midnight and we still couldn’t make the final decision, we had to sleep on it.”
The 16-team field for the World Cup is divided into four groups of four teams each. Those teams engage in round-robin play July 1, 2 and 4 to establish seeding for the single-elimination round of 16, which takes place July 5.
The quarterfinals are July 7, the semifinals July 8 and the bronze and gold medal games July 9.
The United States will play in Group D along with Iran, Italy and Angola. Here are the remaining groups:
Group A: Argentina, France, New Zealand, South Korea.
Group B: Egypt, Germany, Lithuania, Puerto Rico.
Group C: Canada, Japan, Mali, Spain.
Games will be played in Cairo Stadium, which includes a 16,000-seat arena and a 2,100-seat gym.
The journey thus far
Diallo and Washington shined in both exhibitions. Diallo scored 15 points in each game. Washington contributed 18 and 13.
Calipari awoke Friday morning in Cairo to a report he was considering a move to the New York Knicks’ front office. The coach quickly dispensed with that and was off “to see the pyramids.”
▪ Calipari said he watched Wynyard work out in Cairo. “He looks great,” the coach tweeted. Can’t wait to watch him play this week.”
▪ Calipari’s assistant coaches are Tad Boyle (Colorado) and Danny Manning (Wake Forest).
▪ Previous USA coaches to win U19 gold medals were Sean Miller (2015), Billy Donovan (2013), Jamie Dixon (2009), Lon Kruger (1991), Ron Nikcevich (1983) and Gary Cook (1979).
FIBA U19 World Cup
What: Sixteen-country basketball tournament
When: Saturday through July 9
Where: Cairo, Egypt