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Eric Woodyard, Deseret News
Former University of Utah star Kyle Kuzma talks to reporters after participating in training camp for the USA men’s national team on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019 in Las Vegas.
LAS VEGAS — It was the summer of 2014.
All of the top players from around the world entered Whitney Young High School in Chicago.
The stage was the Nike Global Challenge, with teams from Brazil, China, Canada and Africa playing four different USA squads.
An uncommitted, 16-year-old De’Aaron Fox represented USA West while 17-year-old Donovan Mitchell — a fresh Louisville commit — suited up for USA East.
“I just remember he had some (huge) feet and he was my height,” Fox told the Deseret News of Mitchell, ahead of the Utah Jazz-Sacramento Kings 2018-19 season opener.
“But it was cool playing against him in high school, then we played against each other in college and now we’re going to play against each other multiple times in the NBA so it’s great,” he added. “We do have a good relationship, but on the court we’re still going at each other.”
” We were all in the same draft class so for us to come here and be amongst each other and hopefully play with each other in September, it’s going to be pretty special, especially coming from the same draft class and being young. ”
Fox’s USA West team would win the gold medal of that challenge, with him posting the most total assists of the tournament, but that encounter wouldn’t be their last.
Fast forward four years later and the 2017 NBA draft classmates are now fighting for roster spots on the USA men’s national team for the World Cup this summer.
Former University of Utah star Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers), Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat) and Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics) are also at Team USA’s training camp in Las Vegas this week.
“We’ve been pushing each other since we were 16 years old,” Mitchell said of his draft classmates. “So, it’s just another step for us. Obviously we’re the young guys, but we’re going to come out there and compete and be ready. It’s a lot of fun and I’m enjoying this.”
As fun and exciting as it is for the 2017 draft class to try to team up for Team USA, Tatum also called it “a little bit of both” for him as far as bonding and taking mental notes on how to beat these guys during the upcoming NBA season.
“We’re just having a lot of fun competing,” Tatum said.
Statistically, Mitchell averaged a sophomore-best 23.8 points with 4.2 assists, 4.1 boards and 1.4 steals last season as the first second-year guard since Dwyane Wade in 2004-05 to post more than 23 points per game.
Eric Woodyard, Deseret News
However, in high school, he wasn’t as highly touted as Fox or Tatum. Neither was Kuzma, who slipped to No. 27 in the draft.
“This is huge. I didn’t get invited to the bigger camps or anything like that. So for me to be here, it’s a blessing,” Mitchell said. “Obviously I want to do my best to make the team, but for me it’s just enjoying the fact that I’m here because most of my life I didn’t get a chance to be in this position, so now that I’m here I’m making the most of it, compete every day, enjoy every day and just enjoy playing with some of the best in the world.”
In fact, for Kuzma and Mitchell, this training camp marks their first USA Basketball experience.
So that opportunity to wear the red, white and blue, coupled with the overall summer structure, is what’s pushing members of the 2017 draft class to try to make the final 12-man roster that’ll get announced on Aug. 17.
Official 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup competition will be held Aug. 31-Sept. 15 in China with Kuzma, Fox, Mitchell, Adebayo and Tatum all preparing to be in the mix to capture gold.
“It’s special,” Kuzma said. “We were all in the same draft class so for us to come here and be amongst each other and hopefully play with each other in September, it’s going to be pretty special, especially coming from the same draft class and being young.”