Note: The following appears in the August 2019 issue of Orange: The Experience.
It was June 28, the day before the Tigers took flight for Italy, to represent their country, their school, their community and themselves in the 2019 World University Games.
Toward the end of that Friday practice, Clemson’s projected starting point guard Clyde Trapp went down on the baseline clutching his knee in obvious pain. An MRI confirmed that Trapp had torn his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). This was something Clemson was all too familiar with, considering not even two months earlier, Jonathan Baehre suffered the same fate.
Clemson’s roster only listed six players early in the summer, but as the weeks passed the team slowly added personnel. The last piece of the puzzle, Tevin Mack, had only been in practice a few days prior to the trip.
Fast-forward to July 2. The Tigers were into day four, preparing for their first of three games in as many days. It was also the night of the opening ceremonies, which weren’t starting until 9 p.m. local time. Everyone was tired after waiting in line for what felt like hours, but slowly the time finally came for the United States to walk out into the stadium and take its famed walk around the track.
The United States earned the second loudest ovation, only behind the host country of Italy, and it made a serious impression on the team. It all clicked in that powerful moment: they were representing the Red, White and Blue and 300 million Americans.
With 65,000 fans clamoring to receive anything that had “USA” on it, junior Aamir Simms and sophomore Parker Fox ran over to the stands and handed out American flags and USA pins, much to the delight of the locals. Those moments from the ceremonies will be remembered and those feelings of national pride and camaraderie will never die.
In the team’s pool play opener against Finland, the USA posted three double-digit scorers. It was Alex Hemenway’s four-point play with 44 seconds remaining that broke a 63-63 tie and put the United States in the driver’s seat for a 69-65 victory. That play and game set the tone for a squad that would get contributions from everyone on its roster over the remainder of the tournament.
In game two, the United States topped Ukraine 58-57 and then steamrolled China en route to a 27-point thrashing, 99-70.
At 3-0 in pool play, the United States played two close games in the quarterfinals against Germany and the semifinals against Israel before blowing out Ukraine in the goldmedal game.
Trailing by as many as 10 to Germany, including nine at halftime, the United States went on a 10-0 run in the third quarter to take a six-point lead. They were able to hold on and grit out a two-point victory to advance.
“We showed what it meant to be an American and to keep fighting and never let go,” said Simms following the quarterfinal win over Germany.
“This has been such a team effort, such an incredible team effort,” said Head Coach Brad Brownell following the U.S. victory over Germany. “Unbelievable last stop to win it. That’s what we needed, a defensive stop to win it. I couldn’t be prouder of my guys.”
With a one-point lead, 71-70, in the semifinal game against Israel and 1:27 left in the fourth quarter, an Al-Amir Dawes three-point play put the United States up by four, setting up once again, a big-time defensive stop to send them to the gold medal game. Aamir Simms posted his best performance of the tournament against Israel with 27 points and16 rebounds.
All of the hard work the team had put in came to fruition for the United States in the gold medal game, a rematch with Ukraine. This team unselfishly came together to represent the United States in a golden way. The U.S. put forth its best effort against the Ukrainians, throttling them by more than 20 points, 85-63, and it wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated.
Aamir Simms reflected on what it meant to win the gold and celebrate with the American flag.
“It was an indescribable moment and it was something that I will never forget and will be with me for the rest of my life.”
“Winning a gold medal in any kind of an event like this is incredibly special,” said Brownell. “But to also do it the way we do it, the way our guys do things every day, that’s justas special.”
This team was on a mission. A mission to grow together, play for their country, their school, their community, themselves and win a gold medal in the process.