TORONTO – Leonardo Arinze Okeke scored 14 points and collected six rebounds as Italy defeated the United States 88-77 to kick off the men’s GLOBL JAM tournament Tuesday at Mattamy Athletic Centre in downtown Toronto.
Liam Udome added 12 points as part of a balanced Italian attack that saw all 12 players score.
“The guys love to feed one another,” said Italian coach Marco Ramondino after the game. “I really appreciate the effort that they’re putting in trying to play as a team trying to get every guy involved.”
America’s Keyonte George led all scorers with 32 points on 10-of-17 shooting as he looked to impress his new Baylor head coach and teammates, demonstrating a natural ability to score at all three levels.
“Not a lot of freshmen get this chance to come out here early and play against older guys like you do in college,” said George, who will be entering his freshman season at Baylor this fall. “So, to come here and really experience something that I’ve never experienced before and come to another country with my teammates and get closer to them — we’re kind of feeling each other out and learning each other — by the time it comes to the season we’re all going to gel together.”
Outside of George, there weren’t many bright lights to be found on the U.S. as Italy’s defence stymied it, holding America to just 40.3 per cent shooting from the floor and looked to play a more organized style of offence tallying 24 assists on 32 made field goals.
The American team is made up entirely of current, former or forthcoming Baylor University players, with head coach Scott Drew taking the reins of his team.
Despite the loss, Drew sees a lot of value in having his team participate in this tournament.
“It’s a great team-bonding experience for our guys, it’s a great opportunity for us to get better in the summertime, it’s a great chance for a lot of new guys that have never put on a Baylor uniform and to learn our offence, learn our defence,” said Drew. “And you play great competition, well-coached teams, teams that have been together and are experienced. So it makes us a lot better come season time.”
Udome got off to a hot start for the Italian side, scoring their first six points of the game all on three-pointers and then, later in the opening frame, he nailed another triple while getting fouled, but failed to finish the four-point play.
He ended the first quarter with nine points as Italy jumped out to a 23-11 lead after one.
In the second quarter, the United States slowly chipped away at the Italian lead, spurred on by a personal 7-2 run by George.
The Americans would cut the lead down to as little as six with 2:38 left to play in the frame after a George scored his 13th, 14th and 15th points of the quarter with a three, but Italy would respond as Michael Chukwudelu Diego Anumba would hit a step-back three to spark a 10-2 run to finish the half, capped off by a thunderous Okeke dunk to balloon the Italians’ lead back up to 14 as they carried 50-36 lead at the half.
George scored 12 more points alone in the third quarter as the U.S. once again cut Italy’s lead down to six, but they were still unable to get over the hump, trailing 71-57 entering the fourth, when Italy would extend its lead to as much as 20 and go on to cruise to victory.
“We had good balance,” said Ramondino. “We played well at both ends of the court, moved the ball on offence, got good shots and I think that influences our defence during the game, starting with good transition defence to be able to set the defence and stopping their transition game and after that everybody was able to be consistent, to contribute and even if we had some flaws — some ups and downs during the game — I think the guys were able to control.
“They did a good job of controlling the game, controlling the rhythm.”
GLOBL JAM is a first-of-its-kind under-23 international basketball tournament hosted by Canada Basketball.
Participating countries in the men’s tournament include Brazil, along with the host Canadians, the United States and Italy.