EAST LANSING, Mich.--Every year, USA Basketball invites the top prep, collegiate and professional athletes to try out for specific teams that will compete internationally. This summer, Raymar Morgan will try out for a slot on the USA Men's U19 FIBA World Championship Team while Drew Neitzel will vie for a spot on the USA Pan American Games Team.
Although auditioning for separate squads, both have four colors in mind: Red, White, Blue--and gold.
"Coach Izzo and I talked about the chance to tryout," Morgan said, who will be attending tryouts from June 28-30. "Coach said it was a great opportunity to get your name out there. Anytime you can go and represent your country, it's a great honor."
In 2003, former Spartans Maurice Ager and Paul Davis both competed for the U19 team, which finished with a 7-1 record. Ironically, Morgan will be trying out in Dallas, Texas, at the Dallas Mavericks basketball facility--where Ager now competes professionally.
Morgan, who turns 19 in August, is coming off his inaugural season in the Big Ten, where he averaged 10.9 points and 5.1 rebounds in 15 conference games. The 6-foot-7-inch forward is confident that his conference cultivation will translate into tryout success.
"I've definitely got an advantage heading into tryouts," said Morgan, who is one of 10 college players invited to the tryout, which also includes 10 prep athletes. "The Big Ten is like no other conference, everybody plays hard and everyone is talented. I think playing in our conference gives me an advantage."
If all bodes well for Morgan, he will represent the Stars and Stripes in Novi Sad, Serbia from July 12-22. In the preliminary rounds, the U19 team will play Mali (July 12), China (July 13) and Serbia (July 14). The Canton, Ohio, native is hoping to have success similar to that of former Spartan player and current Chicago Bulls head coach Scott Skiles, who helped lead the 1983 USA Junior World Championship Team to gold.
"That's what I'm going to try to go out and do," Morgan said. "Win the gold."
Similarly, Neitzel is looking forward to his golden opportunity. He is hoping to join the likes of former Spartans Matt Steigenga and Mike Peplowski who both competed for the Pan American Games Team in 1999 and 1991, respectively.
The Associated Press honorable mention All-America guard will compete against 30 of the nation's top collegiate players at Haverford College (Pa.), on July 12-14, for one of 12 roster spots. Neitzel will join Indiana's D.J. White and Wisconsin's Brian Butch as the only tryout invitees from the Big Ten Conference.
"D.J. White is going to be there from Indiana, and I've been playing with him since I've been in high school, so hopefully we can both make the team," Neitzel said. "We have a lot of great players in this conference. Hopefully all of us will make it and represent the Big Ten in a positive way."
Like Morgan, Neitzel sought the counsel of Izzo, who was the head coach of the 2003 Pan American squad that included former Spartan guard Chris Hill.
"Coach Izzo was really encouraging and he really wanted me to tryout for the team," Neitzel said. "He's been involved with USA Basketball for a while, so we've talked about what to expect and how I should play. He just stressed playing my game, working on penetrating, getting my teammates open, but still being aggressive as a scorer, and try to showcase my overall game, not just as a point guard, but as a shooting guard."
Despite being a tremendously versatile guard, Neitzel understands that a roster spot is not certain, especially when going against 30 of the top collegiate players in the country, including 16 with previous USA Basketball experience.
"For this team, the top 30 guys around the country are going to be there so it's going to be a challenging tryout," Neitzel said. "I just have to go there, play my game, and show them what I can do.
"First and foremost I have to play well, show off my skills, my leadership ability, and make the team. Once that happens, I will definitely bring the guys together and try to create a team atmosphere and stress to the guys that the USA hasn't won gold in a few years."
The Pan American team will begin with preliminary play July 26, in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, against Panama, then play the following day (July 27) against Argentina. Following preliminary round play, the top two teams from each preliminary round group will advance to the medal round to determine first through fourth places. The final games will take place on July 29.
With tryouts and training included, the total length of the 2007 Pan American games is only about three weeks, an amount of time that Neitzel was comfortable with.
"I was excited about the Pan America games, because some of the summer events are like six or seven weeks long," Neitzel said. "But the Pan American games are only three weeks long with the tryouts, practice and actual event, so I was excited about it and it should be a good opportunity for me."
Whether located in Serbia or Brazil, golden opportunities lay ahead for both Morgan and Neitzel.
"Raymar and I both have common goals of winning gold," Neitzel said. "He's (Morgan) improved a lot already this summer. He should have a great shot at making his team. I am excited for him and I'm excited to represent Michigan State at the tryouts and with USA Basketball."