“The Dream Team.” That’s the tag we put on Lance Stephenson, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Derrick Favors and Luke Babbitt when they made the cover of our Summer ’07 issue. Five of the top high school ballplayers in America, they’re all part of the adidas Nations, a sort of Team USA-in-training program in its inaugural year. About 25-30 stars from across the country — split up into one team each for the Class of ’08 (rising seniors) and Class of ’09 — were brought together throughout the summer for weekend-long training camps: Atlanta in April, San Francisco in May (where we shot the cover), Portland in July and now New Orleans this week. After touching down in N.O. on Friday night, the Nations players have been practicing with a group of D-1 college players and playing in a tournament against teams of teenagers from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Over the weekend we got up with some of the guys to talk about what they’ve been up to this summer and how the Nations program is going.
First up is one of our cover guys, Jrue Holiday, a rising senior at Campbell Hall H.S. in North Hollywood, Calif., who recently committed to UCLA.
Dime: The last time we saw you in San Fran, you were out with a foot injury. How have you been since then?
Jrue: I was back about a week and a half after San Francisco. I went to the Kobe Bryant camp, the USA Basketball camp in Colorado, and basically all the adidas AAU tournaments. I played at the (adidas Nations) Portland camp. That was fun; we got to play the ’09 team and we showed we’re way better than them.
Dime: You also made your college choice in that time since San Francisco. Why’d you pick UCLA over Washington, your other finalist?
Jrue: It was about staying close to home. I traveled a lot this summer, and I realized I wanna be close to home. My brother is going to Washington next year, but the rest of my family is near UCLA.
Dime: What’s it been like working out with the college players?
Jrue: Kevin Love, Eric Gordon and a couple other guys were there. You can tell how advanced the college guys are, like how smart they are. And they’re all kinda buff and bigger than the rest of us.
We also talked to cover guy Luke Babbitt, a senior at Reno H.S. in Nevada who recently switched his verbal commitment from Ohio Stat to the Wolf Pack.
Dime: Why’d you change your mind about college?
Luke: I just decided I wanted to stay in my hometown (Reno). I do have some family in Ohio, but I didn’t wanna leave. Nevada was just a better fit.
Dime: Seeing as you’re going from the Big Ten to the WAC, are you worried about going under the radar?
Luke: No. I mean, I know the WAC isn’t one of the best conferences, but Nevada plays good teams in their pre-conference schedule. I’m not too worried about it.
Dime: What have you been focusing on improving this summer?
Luke: Every part of my game, but especially defense, ’cause everyone can always get better at that.
Dime: How was practicing with the college guys?
Luke: It was cool. Every now and then I’d be matched up with one of them, like Kevin Love or Tasmin Mitchell. I didn’t guard them too much, but (Class of ’08) B.J. Mullens was guarding Kevin Love most of the time.
Dime: How did B.J. do?
Luke: I mean, Kevin’s a real good player, and he showed it. B.J. played well — he had his moments. It was a good matchup.
Dime: Are you looking forward to the end of the summer season?
Luke: Kinda, because of all the traveling, but it just means that school is about to start. So I’m kinda not looking forward to it.
After the first day of games we got up with Lance Stephenson, the Lincoln High (Brooklyn) star guard who’s arguably the best junior in the country.
Dime: What was the schedule like today?
Lance: We got up real early for two-a-day practice, then we played two games. We played Europe and the Latin America team.
Dime: How’d you do?
Lance: We won ’em both by like 30. We played good as a team, passing the ball around. Everything so far is good, but tomorrow we’ll see who shows up against the African team.
Dime: What stood out from today’s games?
Lance: I don’t know … they were both blowouts. Everybody was throwing alleys and stuff. Everybody had a highlight.
Dime: Did you think it was gonna be that easy?
Lance: I can’t say it’s easy ’cause we just started. I’m just trying to win every game.