Jabari Walker admitted to the disappointment.
What magnified the gut-punch of missing the final cut for the US U19 World Cup team was Walker’s belief that he had earned a spot on the roster, and that his absence from the ongoing World Cup tournament in Latvia was less about basketball than off-the-court maneuvering.
Walker returned to practice with the Colorado Buffaloes last week after spending a week at Texas Christian University at the tryout camp for the U19 team. The sophomore forward survived the first cut when the tryout pool was whittled from 27 players to 17, but he was left off the final 12-man roster.
“Honestly, it was (disappointing), but I know kind of what went down,” Walker said. “You look at the roster, you kind of see a little bit what happened. I’ll just leave it at that. I proved to myself that I deserved to be there and I deserved to make the final cut, but there was a little bit of something else going on there that wasn’t really the basketball part.”
Colorado head coach Tad Boyle, who served as an assistant on the 2017 U19 team and was an assistant for the 2015 US Pan Am team, didn’t refute Walker’s assessment. His only hope is that Walker, coming off Pac-12 All-Freshman team honors in his first season of college basketball, uses his perceived snub as a source of motivation.
“The biggest thing I told Jabari is those decisions that are made are not always the right ones,” Boyle said. “And he has to use that to his advantage — which is, ‘Hey, why didn’t I make the team? What are the things where I kind of came up short in the tryout process? What can I do to use that as fuel for my fire to prove people wrong?’
“I’ve been part of that USA Basketball selection for the 19 and under team, and for the Pan Am team. I remember one of the teams, the Pan Am team, we cut Fred VanVleet. It wasn’t a good decision to cut Fred VanVleet. But we made that decision and we had to live with it. But Fred VanVleet used that experience to really fuel his fire. He had a great senior year that year (at Wichita State) and obviously has turned into a heck of an NBA player. That’s what I told Jabari. It’s a great experience, it’s a great honor. Let’s turn a negative into a positive. If Jabari does that, it will turn into a great, great story down the road.”
Among players will similar skill sets as the 6-foot-8 Walker who made the U19 roster were reigning Conference USA Freshman of the Year Kenneth Lofton Jr.; incoming UCLA freshman Peyton Watson; and incoming Stanford freshman Harrison Ingram. Cardinal head coach Jerod Haase is serving as an assistant for the U19 team, which is 2-0 at the World Cup heading into a Tuesday matchup against Australia.
“I think it was a great experience, just seeing where I matched up with those guys,” Walker said. “Just being able to prove to myself that I was up there with the best and I deserved to be there. Just being able to sharpen my iron going against those guys, and I picked up a little bit from what I saw.”