After a strong run through group play, and well positioned for the medal rounds, the U.S. U-19 national team, competing in the FIBA World Championships in Latvia, lost to Russia in the first round of elimination play Friday before defeating Australia Sunday to finish fifth in the tournament.
It wasn't quite a coming out party for UConn's Jeremy Lamb because he took care of that during the second half of his freshman campaign with the Huskies, particularly during the team's 11-game run through the postseason. Still, Lamb, who will be critical to UConn's success this fall, was a bright spot on the national team squad, scoring 35 points against Latvia and adding 25 more against Croatia. He struggled for most of the Australia game, shooting just 2-for-16 from the floor before tipping in his own miss with 29 seconds left to give the U.S. the win.
Lamb spoke about his experience in Latvia with the Hartford Courant's Mike Anthony.
"It's a little disappointing [not winning Gold], but a good experience," he said. "… I was excited [to make the team]. It just made me work harder. It just made me want to play up to my potential, play up to the way they looked up to me. I was a little nervous going in, but I just played hard and played my game."
A year ago, no one knew what to expect from Lamb. He's now one of the Huskies' young leaders, a role he assumed with the national team, too. "I didn't necessarily feel [the pressure], but I knew I had a spotlight on me," said Lamb. "Coach [Paul] Hewitt really expected me to be a leader. I had to talk to the team just about what it takes to win. It didn't add any pressure, but I did have to try to be a leader."
As for what Lamb needs to work on as he heads into his sophomore season: "Just being able to shoot on the move, making strong dribble moves and pulling up or getting all the way to the rim. Really just being a leader on the team. Trying to lead, that's one area I've got to grow in. And just handling the ball late in games."
With Kemba Walker in the NBA, Lamb is aware that opponents will now focus on stopping him. "I think I'll have some difficult games," he said. "People are going to play me tough and it's going to be a challenge. But I'm going to be able to get through it. Because of all the work I'm going to put in in the gym, I'll get through it."
And while it wasn't much talked about in the weeks following the Huskies national championship -- perhaps because the focus was on Kemba, Lamb considered turning pro after just one college season. "I was definitely about to go, but people said I should stay so I felt like I needed another year. I talked to my parents a lot and Coach told me he thought I needed another year."