Friday, June 20, 2014 | 2 a.m.
When Chase Jeter found out he didn’t make the final cut for Team USA’s Under-18 squad, he had little time to dwell on it.
Jeter, a class of 2015 center at Bishop Gorman High, was one of three players sent home last weekend from training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., where the squad will compete in the FIBA Americas Championship the next five days. The team begins group play at 4:30 p.m. today against Uruguay.
“I was really confident that I was going to make it,” Jeter said. “I was a little surprised.”
He came home to Las Vegas for one day and then hopped on a flight to Virginia for the NBPA Top 100 camp, which includes classroom sessions and workouts designed to help elite high school players prepare for the challenge of the college game and beyond. Most reports listed Jeter as one of the camp’s top performers in the first couple of days.
Then his phone rang.
UNLV freshman Dwayne Morgan, one of the 12 players on the U18 roster, had to leave for a family situation in Baltimore. Did Jeter want to come back?
“I had a couple of hours to make my decision, so I talked to my parents about it,” Jeter said. “I felt like it was an easy decision because it’s such a great opportunity.”
Jeter returned to the Rockies on Thursday morning and practiced alongside fellow UNLV target and Gorman center Stephen Zimmerman. Although the role as teammates is certainly familiar, doing it for the first time in USA uniforms is another scrapbook achievement for both.
“I feel it’s the biggest thing you can possibly do at this stage,” Zimmerman said.
Both players have been through Team USA camps before, but this is the first time they’ve made it to the competition. Now that they’re here, there’s only one acceptable result in their eyes.
“I think we all have the same mindset,” Jeter said. “Gold is what we’re aiming for.”
The tournament starts in group play, with Team USA playing Uruguay today, Mexico on Saturday and Argentina on Sunday. Semifinals against the top two teams from the other group (Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico) are Monday with the medal games on Tuesday. The four semifinalists advance to the 2015 FIBA U19 Championship.
There’s considerable talent up and down the roster, but center may be the deepest position. Combined with incoming Texas freshman Myles Turner, Zimmerman and Jeter form a more formidable young frontcourt than almost any collegiate team in the country. That size could go a long way in determining whether the Americans finish on top of the podium.
Coaching will help, and the roster is loaded in that regard, too. Florida coach Billy Donovan leads a staff that includes Providence’s Ed Cooley and Arizona’s Sean Miller. Over the past 10 seasons, Donovan and Miller have combined for nine Elite Eight appearances, including Donovan’s back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007.
“It’s great to be able to see how they think and how their minds work,” said Zimmerman, who has Arizona among the final eight schools he is considering.
Jeter is the youngest player on the roster and was also eligible for the U17 team. He tried out for U18 instead for the better competition and to stay stateside in his final high school summer instead of possibly making a trip to Dubai in August.
Only a gold medal will feel satisfying, yet his decision is already a success if for no other reason than the latest example of Las Vegas’ place on the national basketball scene. Dating to 1990, high school teammates have made the same 12-man U18 roster three times.
It’s a rare feat that feels appropriate considering all of the previous camps, all-star games and accolades that have honored both players.
“We’ve seen so many sides of games competing against each other and with each other,” Jeter said. “He’s a great player, and we both get the opportunity to make each other better. That’s always been a benefit for us.”