Aug. 14, 2009
Northwestern rising sophomore forward John Shurna spent part of his summer playing for the United States in the Under-19 World Championships in New Zealand, where he helped it to a perfect 9-0 record and its first title in that competition since 1991. Share his memories here as he chats with NUsports.com's Skip Myslenski.
Coach (Bill) Carmody actually called me in and I didn't know what to expect. It was the day before my nineteenth birthday. I turned 19 on April 30th. (Any player who was under 19 at the start of the calendar year was eligible for the team.) He told me I had been invited to tryout for the Under-19 USA team. I was kind of in shock, but extremely excited about the opportunity.
He asked me if I wanted to accept. It didn't take me too long to think of that answer.
I'd actually been sitting out with a broken wrist for about three or four weeks at that point. I was still in the cast. I got out of it about two weeks later. But I could still run and I still did a lot of the exercises I do with the team.
It had never crossed my mind (that he would have the opportunity). So when I arrived at the airport (serving the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs) and saw, like, (Syracuse coach) Jim Boeheim, I was just in shock. He was wearing his USA gear and it took me back a little bit. I was like, `Wow.' I was honored just to be invited.
I was in awe seeing all these people you'd read about in the same room. But then, when you're on the court, it's competition. You're still trying to win, still trying to give your best effort. You're not going to back down from any of them.
I felt I was giving it my best effort and whatever happens, happens. But in the back of my mind, I felt I could compete with these guys.
I was really excited. They brought us into a room and they listed off the guys who made. When you hear your name called, it's a million emotions running through you.
You couldn't take the smile off my face for a while after that.
I called my mom, my dad and one of my best friends. They were all really excited for me. It was very cool.
Reality set in pretty quickly after that. When we started doing sprints, the next thing you know, everyone's huffing and puffing. Yeah. Reality set in pretty quick.
That was pretty special. We all got our equipment at the same time. You saw your jersey and it said USA on it. It gives you chills. You realize you're playing for your country. As far as basketball goes, I don't think it gets much bigger and better than that.
It was a little different atmosphere (in New Zealand). The first couple of games were morning games, so there were school children there. They'd start chanting USA and stuff like that. Egypt. They had a pretty lively crowd. That was pretty cool.
When we played Croatia in the semifinals, it felt like we were at a soccer match. They were blowing whistles. They were yelling and screaming the whole game. They're all waving their flags. I'd never experienced anything like that.
We have a Croatian kid (Ivan Peljusic) on our team here. They were all just like him. They were all just really lively people, real proud of their country.
He e-mailed me before we played them. He said, 'Good luck against my homeland.' So he was supportive.
We were up, I think, 15 at halftime and the next thing you know, (entering) the fourth quarter, they (Croatia) were up two.
I got a rebound. We were up by (two with under 20 seconds remaining), the shot clock was running down and (Kansas') Tyshawn Taylor put up a (three-point) shot. It was tremendous he got the shot off and beat the shot clock. It hit the rim and I grabbed the rebound (in a scramble) and I passed it to (Butler's) Gordon Hayward and he got fouled and made two free throws (with 14.6 seconds remaining to clinch the game).
It was a team win. You just try to put your best effort out there.
The style of play threw me off for a little while. I felt like the players played a little differently than they do back here. There were some moves where, at first glance, you're like, `Oh, that's a travel.' It was just different. After awhile, I realized, `No it's not. It's just a different move that we're not accustomed to.'
There was a lot of screening. And their footwork. They all had very good footwork.
In the Princeton offense (used by the Cats), you have to be a basketball player. You have to be able to dribble, pass, shoot. You have to be able to do it all. You have to have a pretty well-rounded game in order to play for Coach Carmody. The international game, you see that just as well. Athleticism doesn't get you as far in the international game.
We've seen (at the Olympics and other international competitions) that we just can't put the best athletes out there. We have to put a team out there.
Probably one of the best feelings I've ever had. You step up onto the podium and you see your country's flag being raised and realize, 'Wow. For 19-and-Under, I'm world champion.' It doesn't get much better than that.
All of our hard work paid off. We represented our country and we succeeded.
It was great to be around the different coaches (Pitt's Jamie Dixon and his assistants, Purdue's Matt Painter and Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery). They're such great basketball minds.
We played a completely different style than we do at Northwestern. It was great just to be exposed to a different style. All those coaches have had great success. Getting the opportunity to play for some of the best coaches in college basketball really opened my eyes and helped my game a lot.
You had to rebound and play defense to be on the court. That was pretty much how you stayed out there.
It was all defense.
I don't know if I could point to just one area. But I think just having the opportunity to play against the best competition, I was able to raise my game. When we were in Colorado, we played against our own team and the older guys (from the World University Games team). Playing against them and then going against other countries, I improved my game just by going against them.
It helps my confidence. Coming home with a gold medal obviously improves your confidence.
It's an extremely great honor. But there's still a lot of hard work ahead to keep growing.
The honor of representing my country...I'll never forget that. Receiving the gold medal, celebrating with my teammates, the guys I'd been working hard with for a month. Our cheer was `Gold Medal' from the start when we broke huddles. Seeing everyone smile. Seeing the coaches finally smile and having a good time. Those will be the best memories I have.
It was one of the best experiences of my life.