Before he left for tryouts for the U.S. U19 national team, Georgia Tech guard Josh Okogie said it would mean everything to him to make the team. He grew up watching his favorite NBA stars such as Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry wear American colors in international competition, and imagined himself one day doing the same.
“An opportunity like this, you can’t just take it for granted,” he said. “I thank God I have the opportunity to even do this.”
Okogie made the team last Thursday, becoming the first player with Tech ties to make a USA team since Chris Bosh played in the 2008 Olympics. He’s the first active Tech player to make the U.S. U19 team since Michael Maddox in 1995.
Beyond the privilege of representing his country, the experience figures to bring considerable return for Okogie, whose team will compete in the FIBA U19 World Cup that runs July 1-9 in Cairo, Egypt.
“I think first and foremost, it’s the opportunity to play for some different coaches and play a different style, which can always help your game,” said Tech assistant coaches Darryl LaBarrie prior to the tryout. “They’re all great coaches in their own right.”
The team is coached by Kentucky coach John Calipari. His assistants are Danny Manning (Wake Forest) and Tad Boyle (Colorado).
Playing for different coaches in a different setting “gives you a different look at the game,” LaBarrie said. “They might have him work on some different things or give him a different way of thinking about the game, which can always be positive.”
Okogie figures to gain confidence from making the team and playing in an international setting. That sort of self-assurance stands to serve him well this coming season, as he takes on a bigger role as a sophomore and the Yellow Jackets’ leading scorer from the past season. Okogie will likely be asked to take on more responsibility as a scorer and leader.
Particularly if he has a successful run in Egypt, Okogie could return with an increased awareness of how he can elevate his team against the ACC.
Merely being selected to the team is a major honor and recognition of ability. Eight members of the 12 members of the 2015 team have turned professional. Five were selected in the first round of last week’s NBA draft. Another was taken in the second round, another was signed to an undrafted free-agent contract and the eighth was a second-rounder in last year’s draft.
On the 2013 team, eight have made the NBA and a ninth was a second-round pick in last week’s draft. Okogie’s professional potential will be examined closely.
“You’re going to be exposed to a number of NBA scouts” at the tournament, LaBarrie said.
Okogie’s making the team speaks to his versatility, a trait that Calipari prioritized in selecting the roster. As a freshman, Okogie proved himself an effective slasher, but he was also the team’s most accurate 3-point shooter (38.4 percent) among players with more than 20 attempts.
This summer, he also has dedicated himself to developing as a scorer. Prior to his departure for the tryouts in Colorado Springs, Colo., he was working with LaBarrie on all manner of shotmaking, including floaters and pull-up jumpers at the basket, his post-up game and shooting jumpers off the catch and dribble.
“It’s starting to become second nature to me, so it’s a good thing,” he said prior to the tryouts.
While a most critical member of last year’s team, Okogie made no attempts to fool himself that he had arrived as a player.
“My freshman year, I made a lot of mistakes,” he said. “I’d still be watching film right now if we were trying to go through all the mistakes. I guess we all know collectively what I need to work on and what I need to improve on.”
All of that improvement will be put to the test well before his sophomore season begins in November. He could go into preseason practice with a keener understanding of how much he has improved and what areas he needs to continue to address.
The advantages and benefits could be significant for Okogie. Likewise, Okogie looks like he could be quite an asset for the American team.
“I know what a team needs to win, and I know what it takes to win, so I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure I can put that team in position to win,” he said.
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