The USA Basketball U-19 team spent the past weekend practicing at the Verizon Center before heading to Prague for the FIBA U-19 World Championship. There are several players on the team who won a gold medal last year at the U-18 World Championship in Brazil, but only 1 of them also won an NCAA title with Louisville earlier this spring.
Montrezl Harrell has not done a lot of losing recently, as he went 38-1 with Hargrave Military Academy before going to college and had a game-saving block in the Jordan Brand Classic. The Cardinals are losing Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng, but will bring back several other players as they attempt to defend their title next year. Jon Teitel got to spend some time talking with Harrell about losing a five overtime game and winning a title.
You are 6’8” but you have a 7’4” wingspan, how big of an advantage is your wingspan on the court? It is a big advantage. I can help on defense against bigger guys and can also hit the boards on the offensive end.
You signed with Virginia Tech before transferring to Louisville, why did you choose the Hokies, and why did you switch to the Cardinals? I was recruited by Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, he was a great mentor and I fit his style on defense. When he got fired after the 2012 season I just decided to get a fresh start somewhere else.
You played on the gold-medal-winning team USA at the 2012 FIBA U-18 Championship in Brazil, what did you learn last summer that you think can help you this summer? It was a great experience to win the gold medal and will help me bring some maturity to this team. I can tell the new guys what to expect because we will be seeing some of the same teams that we played against last year.
You only started three of 40 games as a freshman, what role do you hope to play for team USA? Nothing will faze me, I just want to help the team win any way I can. I am still going to play hard whether I start or come off the bench.
You went scoreless in a three-point five-overtime loss at Notre Dame last February, what are your memories of that game? It was the craziest game that I have ever seen in my life. Notre Dame made some shots at the end that were just unbelievable: we were playing great defense and they were still making three point shots from well beyond NBA range.
You scored a career-high 20 points in a win over Syracuse in the Big East tourney title game that included a 27-3 run. Do you ever remind your Orange opponent, U-19 teammate Jerami Grant about that game? I just happened to have a good game that night and really felt like I was in the zone. If Jerami ever starts talking trash to me then all I have to do is remind him of that game!
You only made one basket in the 2013 NCAA title game (a huge alley-oop in a a six-point win over Michigan): what did it mean to you to win the title? It was great. Everyone was down on us after we lost three games in a row in late-January. It was hard to lose Kevin Ware after he broke his leg in the Duke game, but we all came together as a family. Some of my teammates later told me that I would not be able to get up high enough to catch the alley-oop, but I proved them wrong.