By Jeremy Balan
A single decision on Tuesday significantly changed Stephen Domingo’s travel plans for the summer.
With two players still to be cut to finalize the USA Basketball Men’s Under-17 team headed to the World Championships, he could have been sent home from the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., but instead he’s heading to the international terminal.
The 6-foot-7, Georgetown-bound wing player, who just finished his junior year at St. Ignatius, made the final cut and will play in the FIBA World Championships, which begin on June 29 in Lithuania, after a brief stop in the Canary Islands, where the team will play a handful of exhibition games.
“It’s the highest honor, because you’re representing your country, first and foremost,” Domingo said. “Secondly, the coaches feel you’re one of the 12 best players of your age group. That means you’re one of the best in the world.”
With fellow standout Aaron Gordon from Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose ruled out due to a foot injury, Domingo is now the lone Northern California representative on the team.
“It’s great to represent where I’m from,” Domingo said. “I’m going to try to keep doing that. I don’t know really how to explain it, but its definitely a good feeling.”
He is joined by a group of the country’s best, highlighted by Sports Illustrated cover boy Jabari Parker, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward that is ranked as the nation’s top incoming senior recruit by ESPN.
“We’ve had to battle through some injuries, and when Aaron Gordon fractured his foot, that was a big hole for us, but we’ve selected guys for their defense and being hard-nosed around the basket.” said USA head coach Don Showalter. “Our defense is going to have to be good against international competition.”
Domingo averaged just over 13 points per game for St. Ignatius in his junior season and led the Wildcats in rebounds and blocks, but the biggest critique of his has game continues to be his performance in the paint.
Showalter said that he has improved in those aspects of his game, but he also won’t be asked to do too much post work for the national team, with Parker and three other frontcourt players standing 6-foot-9 or taller on the team.
“The knock on him last year was that he lacked aggressiveness,” Showalter said. “He showed this year that he’s a much more aggressive player around the basket. He’s starting to understand he can use that length on defense and to rebound.”
Just missing the cut for last year’s U16 team that won the World Championship also provided a little extra motivation.
“Many of these players that didn’t make the team have worked hard from last year,” Showalter said. “The were very hungry and that describes Stephen pretty well.”
The coach also stressed the importance of Domingo’s role as a shooter, especially against international competition that is known to employ tough zone defenses.
“We’re going to meet a lot of zone defenses and he’s going toe a zone-buster for us,” Showalter said. “He’s been shooting the ball well and that’s going to stretch defenses.”
Domingo may have his detractors within the City limits, but no one can doubt his talent, and he’s not shying away from his goals for the World Championships, which mirror the goals of USA basketball overall.
“Everything is a gold-medal standard here,” Domingo said. “There is no second place.”