For six years now, the adidas Nations program has gathered the best high school basketball stars from around the globe. The grassroots program assembles these top prospects into teams and sends them to training camps, where they learn from a vast array of trainers and coaches, including a full roster of college and NBA coaches. The Nations program not only trains the players on the court, but gives them seminars advising them on everything from conditioning and nutrition to professional conduct and what to expect as they prepare to transition from high school to college -- and potentially beyond.
The culmination of this year's Nations program is a tournament that began Friday in Orange County and runs through Monday. The teams will have several days to get familiar with one another as they battle it out for top honors in the tournament.
The Nations features nine teams, but the United States of course features the largest contingent, with four teams in the tournament. Two of the teams are comprised of players entering their senior year and two teams are comprised of juniors.
Three of the players on the USA 2013 Blue team are from Southern California. Isaac Hamilton is a 6'4 guard from Los Angeles who attends Crenshaw High. ESPN ranks him as the 14th best prospect in his class and the third best in the state. Jordan Bell is a three-star prospect; a 6'8 forward from Long Beach who goes to Long Beach Poly. Jordan Mathews is a 6'3 guard from Santa Monica who attends Santa Monica High. ESPN ranks Mathews as the 20th best player in the state of California.
On the USA 2014 Blue team, Daniel Hamilton is a 6'7 forward from Los Angeles who attends St. John Bosco and is ranked by ESPN as the 12th best prospect in the Class of 2014 and the top prospect from California. On the USA 2014 Red team, Tyler Dorsey from Pasadena is a 6'4 guard who attends Ribet Academy. Dorsey is actually a member of the Class of 2015 and is already projected by ESPN as the 11th best prospect in his class and second in the state of California.
I had a chance to talk to Isaac Hamilton on Friday, who currently has offers from no fewer than 11 colleges, including the California Golden Bears, UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans. I asked him what he's been learning so far from the coaches at Nations.
[The coaches here] say play hard. After [playing at] other adidas Nations sessions, now this is the time to input everything into one game session.
I also asked him what he thinks about the rumors that the men's Olympic basketball team may be moving to an under-23 format the next time the Summer Games roll around in 2016.
I love that idea. It gives a chance for me and some of the other players here something to work towards. Who doesn't want to play in the Olympics? It would be a fun adventure.
I asked Hamilton what he looks for most in a potential college and he stated that above all, he wants to play with a competitive program that has a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
A national championship, that's what I'm looking for. A team where I can display my skills, and we can get victories and win a championship. Schools like UCLA, USC and Cal have an opportunity of doing that, in any of those three environments.
I was also able to speak with Mathews, who has offers from Colorado and VCU among other schools and has plenty of trips to campuses planned. He talked a bit about the Nations experience and the differences between each of the teams.
I like it. It's fun, it's competitive, it's intense. I like it a lot. [The coaches stress] defensive principles. You've got to play hard all the time. It's not an on and off switch; you've got to bring it 100 percent every time you play.
Each team has a different philosophy. Our philosophy is screen. Pass and screen and move, that's what we're emphasizing.
Mathews also discussed his potential colleges, which include several California schools as well as a trio of schools back east that he plans to visit soon.
I'm going to take a visit to UConn pretty soon. Wake Forest pretty soon. Those are the two far-off schools. Marquette. So those three are for sure [on the visit list]. Thinking about [USC]; Cal and St. Mary's up north. I'm thinking about those. I'll generate a list pretty soon.
To get a feel for the international flavor of the adidas Nations program, I sat down with Dante Exum from team Australia. Exum is a 6'5 shooting guard from Canberra with an interesting basketball pedigree; Dante's father, Cecil Exum, played for the North Carolina Tar Heels from 1980 to 1984 and was part of a 1982 NCAA championship team that included Michael Jordan and James Worthy.
Exum spoke about how the Nations is a unique experience to get a look at how different regions of the world play basketball in different ways.
It's great, because you get players from all different parts of the world. You get to play different styles. It's a different experience to bring them all together.
Our coaches get on us about how we need to change up our style against different players. Like the USA; definitely very athletic, like to run out transition. Europeans like to slow it down, play a bit of half-court basketball.
[The Austalian team] are more get out and run, even though the USA do that, that's mainly our game. We try to get a lot of transition baskets, try to be hustle players.
Exum talked about his future plans and what he'll look for in a potential college.
I'm looking to come over to the States and go to college here in 2014. I haven't committed as yet, but I've received a few offers. [I'm looking for] somewhere I just fit in; with the basketball players, with the coach. Someone that's just a good coach, I guess. Everyone needs to be competitive, because that's how you get better. I'd have to be surrounded by good players and a good coach.
Exum also expressed immense interest in the rumored new under-23 basketball parameters at the Olympics.
Definitely, that's one of my main goals, is to represent [Australia in the Olympics]. Try to create pathways for us, most of us on the Australian team are on the right pathways, so hopefully most of us will get there.
The teams commenced pool play on Friday night. Latin America defeated Asia, 83-62. Australia defeated USA 2013 Red, 86-76. USA 2014 Blue defeated Africa, 69-60. USA 2014 Red defeated Europe, 91-57. The college counselors also played two games against one another.
The 2014 Red's blowout of Europe, Dorsey had nine points and six rebounds, going 4-for-13 from the floor and 1-for-4 from behind the three-point line. In his game against Africa, Daniel Hamilton has two points, seven rebounds and an assist.
The teams will continue play each day in the tournament up until Monday's finals. The final two rounds of the adidas Nations will be televised on CBS Sports Network.