The USA Men’s AmeriCup Qualifying Team (4-0) fended off a resilient Mexico (2-2) team to earn a 94-78 victory on Monday night at the Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. The victory also assured the United States its berth into the FIBA AmeriCup 2022 by virtue of at least a top-three finish in its FIBA AmeriCup Qualifying Group D.
“Winning the two games was great in window number one, but that didn’t get us in. That didn’t qualify us,” said USA Head Coach Mike Fratello. “And when they invited me back to coach window two, I was very excited and happy, because I wanted to be part of helping the United States move on, qualify for the next thing. So that the fact that we were able to do that was very rewarding to me. I love to see young guys get together, form a team, work together, play defense together, pass the ball together and then have success. And that’s what this week, last two weeks has been all about, trying to grow together and get better.”
The USA outscored Mexico 29-14 in the second quarter to pull away and led by as many as 26 points in the third quarter, but Mexico fought back to within 11 points in the fourth quarter. The USA fended off the charge, however, helped by its 54.4 shooting percentage and by its 21-of-27 shooting from the free throw line.
Yante Maten (Maine Red Claws/Pontiac, Mich.) led the USA with 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field to go with nine rebounds; Josh Magette (Lakeland Magic/Birmingham, Ala.) added 19 points and was 7-of-7 from the free throw line; John Jenkins (Hapoel Eilat, Israel/Hendersonville, Tenn.) finished with 16 points; Travis Trice (Gemani Basket Brescia, Italy/Huber Heights, Ohio) contributed 14 points and six assists; and Levi Randolph (Canton Charge/Madison, Ala.) compiled 12 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“We’re all talented basketball players, and so we just read what the defense gave us and then just executed from there and played unselfishly,” Maten said. “I think that’s was the biggest thing was that led to us winning.”
The first quarter featured six lead changes, and the USA ended the period leading 23-20. And while Maten contributed six points for the USA, Mexico’s Gabriel Villarreal paced Mexico with 12 points.
The USA held Villarreal to just two more points for the game, however, as its offense heated up in the second quarter to shoot 10-of-14 from the field (.714). The USA worked the ball into the paint and closed the first half with a 15-5 run to bring the score to 52-34 at halftime. Maten added eight more points in the quarter, and Magette and Jenkins each added seven points in the period.
The USA got points from five different players to push its lead to 26 points, 70-44, after a tip-in from Maten at 4:42 in the third quarter. Mexico rallied to close the period with a 9-2 run, and the score was 72-53 headed into the fourth quarter.
Mexico continued to close the gap and outscored the USA 11-3 to start the fourth quarter to cut the margin to 75-64 at 5:32, and the USA called a timeout. The USA scored out of the break and was able to match Mexico’s pace for the remainder of the game to finish with a 94-78 win. Magette scored 10 points in the quarter, including two deep 3-pointers.
Mexico shot 32 3s and made just nine of those (.281), and the USA also collected a rebounding advantage of 38-28.
Mike Fratello, USA Head Coach
How do you feel about the team, obviously accomplishing victory in this window?
I can’t tell you how happy I am for that group, because I honestly had no idea what to expect. I don’t know who’s been through something like this before, but all of these teams are to be commended for dedicating themselves with a purpose to try and help their country qualify and to give up parts of their lives, to have to have the discipline to be tested every day, to stay away from this terrible disease that so many people are catching right now. And at the same time, to try and play basketball at a high level. So to all four teams, all the players, coaching staffs, congratulations on getting through this in the way that you did. And the people that set this up, have done an unbelievable job. This hotel, the people here are wonderful, and the people that organized all this. It was meticulous in what they did. To come in and be able to, without knowing what to expect, this wasn’t the same group that we had back last February. We had two guys from this team that were on that team in February. One was Josh (Magette), who got hurt and missed the first game, and the other was Levi Randolph. And I don’t think there was another one. That’s it, I think from the other group. And so, to have the 10 new guys come in and mesh together as quickly as they did. Guys hadn’t played in seven, eight months. So, you just don’t know what to expect. So proud of them, and they are to be commended for their effort.
Yante had 21 points, what do you think of his performance?
The only one that slowed Yante down tonight was our staff, because we took him out of the game. I think a substitution when he had it going at that point. We were looking ahead to like, you know, we’re going bring him back in again, and we may need to down the stretch, but he cooled off. And we never got him back in the flow with things, because we started turning the ball over and committing offensive fouls and things like that. So, we never really got Yante back in it again. But, he was terrific tonight. I was very happy to see him. He was active. He scored, and he ran. He passed. He set screens, and defensively he’s an anchor for us back there, because of the good stuff that Mexico runs on offense. So, I’m really happy for him. He’s a good person who takes his job seriously and wants to do it the right way.
Now that you guys have clinched, what does this feeling mean to you? These kids were very selfless this past week-and-a-half to be able to lead this group and get this box checked and get clinched. What does all that mean to you?
I’ll tell you what I told them this morning after I shoot around. It was none of us know. There’s a couple people standing here right now that are going to have opportunities to go on and try to make a team, that have been invited to camp, and that’s where they’ll head, from here right there. But for the majority of everybody else standing here, this may be your last basketball that you play for quite a while. And that would be a shame, because that’s what you are. You’re professional basketball players. And we don’t know if you’re going to get that opportunity now, because of what’s going on in the world with the COVID virus. So, I told him that when you go out on the floor tonight, give it everything you have and understand that you got to catch a break somewhere along the way. When you get your chance to get that break, you have to make the most of it. And these guys came together.
Also, part of the question that you asked, winning the two games was great in window number one, but that didn’t get us in. That didn’t qualify us. And when they invited me back to coach window two, I was very excited and happy because I wanted to be part of helping the United States move on, qualify for the next thing. So that the fact that we were able to do that, was very rewarding to me. I love to see young guys get together, form a team, work together, play defense together, pass the ball together and then have success. And that’s what this week, last two weeks has been all about, trying to grow together and get better.
Did it surprise you that they were just able to check the egos at the door and become a team?
Well, you have a couple players on this team – and good teams always have these kind of guys that step up, and the other players listen to him because they know what they’re saying is right, and they’re not just making stuff up to hear themselves talk – when you have those kind of guys, when you have John Jenkins with his professional attitude and Amile (Jefferson), who’s just the best you could ever ask for as a coach to be on your team, and Levi (Randolph), and Josh Magette, and Travis (Trice), I mean, these guys, they treat it as serious as you possibly can. And they send the message to the other guys. So, it makes it that much easier for the coaching staff. When these guys are hearing from them in the locker room, or in the hotel, or wherever they’re having their meals, that we got to go out and do this. And, you know, I thought one of the things they did is they really watched and studied in our film sessions. Or video guy Mario (Casamajor) did a great job of putting little pieces together that we’d asked for. You know, bad execution offensively, bad rotations defensively, not communicating defensively. He’d come up with those little two minute, two-and-a-half minute things, and they’d watch them as a team together. And we could see, because we knew we could only have so much time on the court, because of our conditioning factor, we didn’t want to wear them out in practice and they couldn’t play the games. So, part of the learning process had to be watching and watching on the board and watching the handouts that we gave them. They were great at that.
There are a couple games now in February, too. Are you hoping to be there?
No, I haven’t thought about, because, you know, in February the NBA season hopefully will be going on. I, like everybody else, need to pay bills and my real-world job may come back and hire me. Now, they may not, okay. And I was part of that conversation today that I was talking about to the team about when we walk out here after this game tonight, you don’t know what’s coming next. So, I could, you know, maybe be doing broadcasting like I have been doing, which would be a commitment there, and I don’t know if I’d be able to get out of that commitment. But they, you know, USA Basketball has to decide now what they want to do next and the next person that’s going to coach the group. I’ve done two windows. I’m so appreciative and happy to have the opportunity. So, we should have nothing but the best.
How did you guys come together so quickly?
I just think it was through playing and talking. We did a lot of talking off the court. Basically trying to, of course with the social distancing, trying to figure out what we’re going to do in different coverages. For example, Levi was talking to me about how I rolled and how I kind of rolled out a little further, and he wanted more of a direct line. But really, just trying to figure out playing styles. I think that was the biggest thing. And once we did that, I think we came together and just executed.
What does it mean to say that you were part of getting USA Basketball clinched into a tournament? What does that accomplishment mean to you?
It means a lot, just because I get to represent from our country. I think everyone can represent in a different way, and I represent mine through basketball. And so, I’m very honored to be here and get to say that I helped accomplish something big.
You know, it was pretty much a one- point game three-point game there for a while. And then it just clicked and it looked like you guys have been together for 10 years at that point. How did this team come together so quickly and find that flow so quickly?
Yeah, I personally will say I had a little rust coming into the scrimmages. There’s been such a long time. But I think we just gelled through, like I said earlier, just talking. We talked a lot, trying to figure out how we played. And we went out there, and at first we were kind of reading how they were, how their defense was with a strong hedge. We just figured we would lift up the corners and figure out the big wants to slip, and we just basically made reads from there. You know, we’re all talented basketball players. And so, we just read what the defense gave us and then just executed from there and played unselfishly. I think that’s was the biggest thing was that led to us winning.
For more information on the USA Basketball team fans are encouraged to click on the link seen here: