The USA Men's U18 National Team defeated host Brazil 81-56 Wednesday to claim the gold medal at the 2012 FIBA Americas Championship. Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes had 11 points and four rebounds in the win.
A rising sophomore power forward from Memphis, Tenn., Stokes started all five of Team USA's games at the championship, averaging 14.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in 20.2 minutes per game. The team's second-leading scorer, he was remarkably efficient offensively, shooting .689 from the field.
Stokes is the second Vol to help lead the United States to gold at this event (formerly known as the Junior World Championship Qualifier), as UT's all-time leading scorer, Allan Houston, starred on the American gold-medal squad in Uruguay in 1990.
The USA, which averaged 97.2 points a game during the championship while winning its five contests by an average of 38.6 points a game, received scoring from 11 of its 12 players Wednesday.
"I though in the first half they went zone and we got a little stagnant and we turned the ball over way too much," USA head coach Billy Donovan said. "We had some opportunities on some fast breaks that we got nothing out of. The one thing we were fortunate in the first half was they were 9-for-19 from the foul line.
"I thought in the second half we got up and down the floor, we were pushing it more; more up-tempo. We attacked the basket; we attacked the paint; and I thought our defense was really, really good in the second half. We took away 3-pointers and easy baskets, and that enabled us to get out on the fast break."
Having put an 83-64 whipping on Brazil just two days early during the two teams' final preliminary round game, the U.S. squad, playing in front of another near-capacity crowd, struggled to pull away in the first half. Tied 7-7 with 6:02 to play in the first quarter, five different U.S. players contributed points in a 11-2 run that saw the USA lead increase to 18-9 with 2:41 left in the opening period.
Brazil pulled to within five, 18-13, but three consecutive U.S. baskets in the paint in the quarter's final seconds pushed the U.S. advantage to 24-16 after one quarter of action.
The U.S. retired to the locker room at halftime leading 37-31, but Brazil at that point held a 22-13 advantage on the glass.
With the gold medal still in limbo, the Americans opened the third quarter with inspired defense, while kicking its offense up a notch or two.
Team USA shot .435 overall Wednesday and finished the game with a 44-38 rebounding edge.
"I told our guys after that they're the ones that made it all possible," Donovan said. "There was a lot of sacrifice. We had a lot of good players, and I think they all understood that they all could probably score more, they all could probably do more, but maybe it wouldn't be the best thing for our team. I was just really proud of the way they sacrificed for one another, they sacrificed for our country and they really wanted to win."
The USA's winning of the gold medal is the nation's sixth FIBA Americas U18 gold medal in eight championships, and the U.S. is now 43-2 all-time in the U18 zone championship.
In the final day's other games, the U.S. Virgin Islands (2-3) beat Colombia (1-4) 77-52 for capture seventh place; Mexico (2-3) earned fifth place after recording a narrow 75-73 win against Puerto Rico (1-4); and in the bronze medal game, Canada (4-1) just slipped past Argentina (2-3) 68-66.
The top finishers from the U18 championship - USA, Brazil, Canada and Argentina - each earned an invite to the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship.
POSTGAME QUOTES FROM STOKES
What's it mean to you to win the gold?
"It means a lot. We represented our country well; we won with class. Just the way we won, we won with no selfishness and it really seemed like guys were playing for each other."
Did it make all the work worthwhile?
"It was definitely worthwhile because anything else (than gold)... it was almost like win gold or bust, so we had to win the gold. I'll definitely remember those days in Colorado. That high altitude really got to me, and that's an experience you really don't get anywhere else."
It was a tough, grind-it-out game today wasn't it?
"I think last game I had a big game against them, so it seemed like they were trying to stop the inside presence we have. But our guards came together, a lot of guys got a lot of steals and they had a lot of pressure. In the second half we really buckled down and played American basketball."
What was the difference between the first half and the second half?
"In the first half it seemed as if they were playing off energy. The crowd was really loud, as expected, because we're playing in their hometown. They really were just playing off of energy. In the second half we defended well and we also went inside too."