Daquan Cook, Aquille Carr bring home gold
The U.S. team rolled to five wins in three days at the Junior International Tournament in Milan, culminating with an 86-66 victory over Italy’s Basket Rimini Crabs in the championship game Monday.
“We brought the gold home,” said Cook, a 6-foot-1 combo guard from Digital Harbor. “Competition was great. Everybody was strong, big, tall, athletic and fast. Every game was tough. We had to work hard every game.”
Cook saved his best performance for last, scoring a game-high 31 points in the title game. The Rams junior averaged 21 points for the tournament, earning MVP honors for his efforts.
“I think it’s going to be a big turning point in my basketball career because it’s an international tournament,” Cook said. “I never played against competition like that before. Playing competition like that and doing well, that’s a big statement.”
Carr averaged around 30 points for the U.S. The Patterson point guard had never left the country before the JIT, but his introduction to Italy was a surprisingly welcome one.
“They really knew my name and who I was,” Carr said. “That was just great. I’m not just known in my city or my state. I’m known all over the [world]. … [Kids were] coming up to me, [saying] ‘We watched your You Tube videos. You’re a great player. Why don’t you come over here and play?’”
Said Cook: “It was like in the NBA. We were celebrities up there, signing autographs, taking pictures with little kids, giving out our jerseys. It was a great experience.”
U.S. Elite Select beat two teams from Italy, one from Spain, one from Serbia and one from Croatia. Coach Chris Chaney said he was blown away by the crowd’s reception to his team throughout the tournament – particularly in the championship game.
“It’s the love of basketball,” Chaney said. “I was in China last summer and it’s just amazing the love of the game of basketball internationally. It’s just so strong. It almost felt like everybody was against us in the beginning of the [title] game, but throughout the game, it just kind of grew. You start hearing chants of ‘USA, USA.’ I think people saw how hard we played and how we overcame different circumstances. We just kept fighting and fighting. It was a fun environment to be around.”
Carr got in a minor shoving match with an Italian player in the title game. The officials, having set a precedent in an earlier game, bypassed technical fouls and ejected both players from the game. Still, Chaney said it was easy to see how Carr and Cook became crowd favorites throughout the tournament.
“I think they both have tremendous upside,” Chaney said. “I really like Daquan. I think he’s going to be a fantastic player. I like his game a lot. He’s got a great midrange game, really defends, obviously knows how to score. He’s going to be a really good one. Aquille is obviously … a very exciting player, a very driven player. Obviously, he has high upside, too.”
Overall, the Junior Invitational Tournament was an experience Carr and Cook won’t soon forget.
“I just always wanted to go over there,” Carr said. “I never knew I would go over there this year and win a championship, bring the gold home.”
Handout photos courtesy of bmorefinest.com