Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

YOUTH GAMES: U.S. Gets Fast Start in Basketball




So they are not exactly the Dream Team. Not yet, anyway.


Still, if someone saw the final score of the U.S. basketball team's first two games, they would think it had Michael Jordan and Co. in the starting line up.


But these are the World Youth Games in Moscow, not an NBA-dominated Olympics of Barcelona or Atlanta.


And for U.S team captain Casey Jacobsen, 17, and his crew, this is their first international competition.


"Obviously, we were a bit nervous coming here, not knowing what to expect. But I think we've adjusted pretty well so far," said the 6-foot-6 guard from Glendora High School in California. He has led his team in scoring, averaging 27 points over the first two games.


Indeed, the U.S. squad seems to have adjusted well enough -- first crushing South Africa 143-31 on the Games' opening day, Friday, then following it up with a similarly impressive performance Sunday against Belarus, 134-46.


But the toughest test yet for the Americans came Tuesday when they met another 2-0 team, Croatia, in a match that decided first place in Group B at the CSKA Sports Complex.


In that game, the United States jumped ahead 5-0 by the fourth minute. But the Croats quickly found an answer, and the two teams went back and forth in the first half, with Croatia holding a narrow 34-32 lead at the break.


After the interval, however, the fresher-looking U.S. team -- which had the luxury of using most of its players on the bench -- had a sizeable edge despite a great effort by Croatia's captain, Marko Popovic, who finished with a game high 20 points.


The United States won the game 75-65 and will meet Belgium in the quarterfinals Thursday. Croatia faces the top team from Group A, Russia.


"We played a good game, although our toughest matches are still to come," said American head coach Terry Rogers, adding that he had only one week to prepare for the games. "There are a few really good teams out here, like Russia, Yugoslavia, Greece, as well as Croatia. I think the gold medal will be decided between these teams."


Rogers, who coaches at Freedom High School in North Carolina, said that he had a tough job cutting the team down to 12 from the 50 kids who came from across the country to try-outs at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.


"We picked the best kids out of those who tried," Rogers said. "Others, who chose not to come for different reasons -- like committing themselves to various summer camps in order to get a better shot at a top collegiate team -- may have had better skills. But these guys really wanted to be here and represent their country in the first [World] Youth Games, and I'm proud of what they have done so far."


Rogers said he knows very well the pressure of being a U.S. basketball coach, and what kind of treatment those who fail to win international tournaments receive back home.


"There is no other way but to win the gold, if you're an American," said the winningest active high school coach in state of North Carolina.


Even if you don't have Michael Jordan on your side.


The United States takes on Belgium at 4 p.m. Thursday, and Croatia plays Russia at 6 p.m., both at CSKA.