By Scott Latta
UA Media Relations
TUSCALOOSA - When 32 of the country’s top collegiate basketball players assemble in Philadelphia Wednesday to try out for the USA Basketball Men’s Pan American Games Team, Alabama juniors Alonzo Gee and Richard Hendrix will be among them, vying for a spot on the 12-man roster that will represent the USA in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 25-29.
Invitations for the Team Trials were made by the USA Basketball Men’s Collegiate Committee, chaired by Syracuse University head coach Jim Boeheim.
“I’m looking forward to the Pan-Am trials,” said Hendrix who joined Gottfried in talking to the media about the trip on Tuesday. (Gee has is home in Florida this summer). “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get a chance to play against some of the better players in the country. It’s a good opportunity for me and I’m looking to take advantage of it.”
Alabama coach Mark Gottfried, who will be serving as an assistant coach to the USA Pan American Games team in Brazil, said the trial process which features 13 players who were first-team in their respective conferences could be the toughest USA Basketball has seen in years.
“It will be as competitive in a trial situation that USA Basketball has had in a long time,” Gottfried said. “One thing you’ve got to realize is that there are some All-Americans and potential NBA players that may get cut. That’s just the reality of it.”
Hendrix, an Athens native who led Alabama in scoring and rebounding last season with 14.6 points per game and 8.7 rebounds, said that despite the international style of play’s reputation for strong guard play and 3-point shooting, the player list for Team USA is deep in the frontcourt.
“There’s a lot of talent there, especially in the post,” he said. “I respect all the players there. There are a lot of players there that are very talented and I don’t think anybody there is going to be taking anyone for granted. I think for whoever does make the cut, I would think it would make them feel as if they’ve set themselves out a bit from everyone else.”
Twenty-five universities have players in the trials, with Marquette featuring three. Alabama is one of five schools that have two, in addition to Duke, Kansas, Oregon and Washington State. Tennessee junior Chris Lofton, Vanderbilt junior Shan Foster and LSU sophomore Tasmin Mitchell are the only other players from SEC schools.
Villanova coach Jay Wright will serve as head coach to team USA. Joining Gottfried as an assistant will be Yale head coach James Jones.
“I hope it says something good nationally about our program,” Gottfried said. “Both of our guys are very deserving to be in this field of 32 players and I think it says good things about our program.”
Hendrix, who recently attended the Amare Stoudamire Skills Academy in Phoenix, Ariz. and has been working out with former Alabama player Erwin Dudley who is a European league all-star and plays for Turk Telecom, said having an Alabama teammate and coach at the Trials in Philadelphia will only go so far in making him more comfortable in a high-pressure environment.
“[It helps] maybe from a comfort standpoint,” he said. “At the end of the day though, I control my own destiny on the court. From a comfort standpoint it will be nice, but I know what I have to do and that’s all on my back.”
If either Gee or Hendrix make Team USA and advance to compete in Brazil, it will be the second trip abroad for Alabama basketball players this summer. In May, Alabama sophomores Demetrius Jemison and Mikhail Torrance traveled to China as part of Reach USA, a non-denominational sports ministry that toured the country May 12-26.
“I’ve seen the difference in [Torrance] coming back and just playing pick-up ball,” Hendrix said. “Their confidence is higher and they’ve got a few more tools to their game they didn’t have prior to going to China. Hopefully I can keep the same mindset and mentality from my experience here at the trials and hopefully make the team and bring it all together this fall with our basketball team.”
Despite his presence on the sidelines during this week’s Team Trials, Gottfried said the ultimate decision of whether either in the Tide duo makes the final roster for Team USA will rest with the selection committee and Boeheim.
Saturday, the field will be cut from 32 to 16 players, with the final announcement of the official roster coming Sunday, July 15.
“I’ve explained to them that they’re going to make this team on their own merit. They’re going to make it on how well they play for three days,” Gottfried said. “They understand. They’ve got to go play. They’ve got to play well and they’ll make this team based on how well they play.
“It’s an honor just to be selected, but they’re not satisfied with that. They want to make the team. From a confidence standpoint, if they go up there to Philadelphia and play with confidence and play well, I’m confident that both of them will make it. I think they’ll do a great job.”
Team USA has not won a gold medal at the Pan American Games since 1983 and finished fourth at the last Games in 2003. Much of the team’s recent struggles internationally, Gottfried said, can be attributed to an international style of play that often features four guards.
Still, Hendrix says, he won’t change his game to fit a different style of play.
“I don’t plan on making a change in my game, I’ve just got to get better at what I do,” he said. “I just have to go up there and play as hard as I can and play as efficiently as I can.
“We’re playing with a lot of other great players from around the country, especially with a lot of big men and maybe I can find something they do in their game and find a piece of it and work it myself, and that can hopefully help me go a long way to our team’s success. But as well as learning from the other guys, I also plan on doing a little teaching myself.”