MANNHEIM, Germany – In its 26th incarnation, the biennial Albert Schweitzer International Youth Basketball tournament is undergoing a couple of serious breaks from its the past 25 events.
First, with the closure of the Mannheim Military Community last year, the venerable Benjamin Franklin Village Sports Arena is no longer available to host the tournament’s title game as it had the previous 25 times. But for fans of DODDS-Europe high school basketball, the biggest change for 2012 is the absence of the customary two Europe-based players on the U.S. roster.
The omission came about with a change in the management of the U.S. team. Never an official representative of USA basketball, the U.S. AST team in the past was assembled by volunteers in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Because of the loss of U.S. military community support for billeting and the like, the South Carolinians bowed out this time around.
A Kentuckian, Eddie Ford, who runs the annual Kentucky Hoopsfest event and is on the web at EddieFordhoops.com, stepped into the breach and took over organizing the team. Unfortunately, he was not told of the custom of saving two spots on the U.S. roster for players from DODDS-Europe programs, and did not find out about the tradition until his roster had already been submitted. He pledged, however, to return to the use of DODDS-Europe players next time around, and asked Ron Merriwether, coach of two-time defending European D-I champion Heidelberg, to sit with the team on the bench this year.
The two-from-Europe tradition began in 1971 when the teams composed entirely from DODDS-Europe all-stars which had competed since the tourney’s inception in 1958 became outclassed by the rapidly improving junior national teams which represented the other countries. In 1971, retired Air Force lieutenant colonel Dick McCann began guiding U.S. teams composed of 10 college-bound players from the U.S. and two Europe-based stars. Under McCann, the U.S. won the tournament a record 10 times.
The last U.S. gold medal, however, came in 1996, as the rising talent levels in international basketball and the reluctance of five-star U.S. prospects to participate in the overseas event combined to steepen the climb for the American teams. McCann stepped down after the 2006 event, and the subsequent coaches, Lionel Hollins, current coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, and former NBA player and coach Larry Krystkowiak guided the U.S. to fourth-place finishes in 2008 and 2010, respectively.
Unfortunately, one thing that doesn’t appear to be changing this year is the U.S. gold-medal drought. An apparently undersized U.S. team was popped 93-66 in a Wednesday exhibition game against the German Under-18 national team. Even before that jet-lag fueled loss, college basketball analyst Juan Cobos saw the prospects for the 2012 Americans this way:
“As usual, this USA team is not a strong team, (such) as USA Basketball selects for the U16 or U19 Tournament of the Americas, Nike Hoop Summit, U17 or U19 World Championships or even the World University Games. It is actually not a USA Basketball official team… Anyway, taking as a main source info from the well-known scouting services such as Rivals, Scout or ESPN, it does not look (like) a medal contender, and not even as good as other U.S. teams that have taken part at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament.”
The Americans begin play for real at 8:30 p.m. Saturday with a pool-play game against Greece at the Waldsporthalle Viernheim, near Heidelberg and Mannheim. Check your GPS or Map Quest for directions to the Waldsporthalle, site of all three U.S. pool-play games. The final and consolation games are scheduled for April 14 at MWS Halle am Herzogenried in Mannheim.
At 8 p.m. Sunday, the Americans are to take on Denmark, and close out pool play at 8 p.m. Monday against Serbia, which is returning to the tourney for the first time since 2006. Tuesday’s an off-day before Wednesday’s start of the tourney's second round. The U.S. must finish first or second in its pool to stay alive in the medals race. For a full schedule, visit the tourney website at http://www.basketball-bund.de/ligen-ergebnisse/albert-schweitzer-turnier.
Here’s a roster of the U.S. team. For details on each player and video interviews with some, go to Cobos’ website, http://www.europeanprospects.com/tournaments/2012/albert-schweitzer-tournament/albert-schweitzer-2012-usa-preview/.
Marki Bryan, a 6-8 forward from Ravenscroft High School, Raleigh, N.C.
Stevie Clark, a 5-11 guard from Douglass High School, Oklahoma City.
Deontaye Curtis, a 6-7 forward from Hoover High School, Hoover, Ala.
Steve Haney, Jr., a 6-6 forward from St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Darian Harris, a 6-6 guard-forward from Shiloh Christian School, Springdale, Ark.
Collin Hartman, a 6-7 forward from Cathedral High School, Indianapolis.
Darryl Hicks, a 6-3 guard from Trinity High School, Louisville, Ky.
Austin Nichols, a 6-9 forward from Briarcrest Christian School, Memphis, Tenn.
Nicholas Smith, a 6-8 forward from Bentonville High School, Bentonville, Ark.
Derrick Walton, Jr., a 6-0 guard from Chandler Park Academy, Harper Woods, Mich.
Derek Willis, a 6-9 forward from Bullitt East High School, Mt. Pleasant, Ky.