Orlando Johnson Becomes Finalist for Team USA
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - UC Santa Barbara basketball star Orlando Johnson's summer just got a little busier.
On Sunday in Colorado Springs, Colo., USA Basketball cut its team that will play in the World University Games in China beginning on August 13, from 22 to 14. When the final list was revealed, Johnson's name was still there.
A two-time Big West Tournament MVP and All-Big West selection, Johnson is now guaranteed to be, at the very least, an alternate on the team that will represent the United States.
"It was awesome," Johnson said of his three-day experience at the Team USA tryouts. "I had a chance to talk to coaches and get feedback, and meet a lot of great players. The whole experience gave me a really great feeling. I hope it can continue."
In his two seasons at UCSB, Johnson has won a pair of Big West Conference scoring crowns, but, most importantly, he has led the Gauchos to two consecutive league tournament championships and NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in school history.
Johnson, a Seaside, Calif., native is the first Santa Barbara player to be in the mix for a USA National Team spot in more than two decades. In 1986, former Gaucho great Brian Shaw was a point guard on the U.S. team that won the FIBA World Championship in Spain. Two years later, Shaw was the last cut of an American Olympic team that, ultimately settled for the Bronze in Seoul, South Korea.
To this point, Johnson's most difficult challenges have not necessarily been basketball-centric.
"The altitude and all the running have been the toughest part," Johnson said. "Early on it was tough, but once I got used to it, I was fine."
He is also excited about the opportunity to wear the red, white and blue.
"The chance to represent the USA in China his huge," Johnson said. "To wear the colors of my country makes me want to work as hard as I can. It is a challenge, but the payoff is worth it."
In addition to Johnson, still in the hunt for one of 12 roster spots on the 2011 USA Men's World University Games Team are: Tim Abromaitis (Notre Dame/Unionville, Conn.); Marcus Denmon (Missouri/Kansas City, Mo.); Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh/Scotch Plains, N.J.); Draymond Green (Michigan State/Saginaw, Mich.); JaMychal Green (Alabama/Montgomery, Ala.); Scoop Jardine(Syracuse/Philadelphia, Pa.); John Jenkins (Vanderbilt/ Hendersonville, Tenn.); Greg Mangano (Yale/Orange, Conn.); Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota/ St. Paul, Minn.); Ray McCallum (Detroit Mercy/Beverly Hills, Mich.); Darius Miller (Kentucky/Maysville, Ky.); Aaric Murray (West Virginia/Philadelphia, Pa.); and Shabazz Napier (Connecticut/Randolph, Mass.).
"I think it's a great group," said USA and Purdue University head mentor Matt Painter, who previously assisted the 2009 USA U19 World Championship Team to a gold medal. "We have a lot of balance. I think on the interior we have some shot-blockers, we have some athletes, guys that can really go and get the basketball and some real good shooters. We have some good, interchangeable parts, and a lot of talent, both returning talent and young. I'm really excited about the mix we have."
The USA will play an exhibition contest against New Century, a Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) professional team on Aug. 11 in Huizho, China, before opening play in the 2011 World University Games on Aug. 13.
If Johnson makes the Team USA traveling team, he could face one of his Gaucho teammates in the first round.
The USA has been place in the same group as Hungary, which will feature UCSB center Greg Somogyi. Somogyi, the team's 7-foot-3 center, will play for the Hungarian National Team at the World University Games.