By Mick Vaught – special to heinnews
The chance to represent your country on the international stage is a dream come true for any player, and for Northwestern forward John Shurna that dream has become a reality.
“It’s an honor to represent your country and to play with USA across your chest,” said Shurna. “That whole experience was tremendous.”
In the summer 2009, after finishing his freshman season at Northwestern, Shurna was invited to work out for the USA Basketball U19 team. He soon became a part of the squad that would make USA basketball history by winning its first U19 championship in nearly 20 years.
Alongside Duke’s Seth Curry and Butler’s Gordon Hayward the Americans took home the U19 World Championship gold medal. Team USA swept through the competition in New Zealand, as it went 9-0 on the way to winning the title for the first time since 1991. Shurna enjoyed the trip abroad, but stated that what was important was the opportunity he had to learn from the other players.
“I think learning from the guys on my team and seeing how hard they play and how hard they work,” Shurna said. “They’re all great players, so any time you get to watch them play, see them play in person and play with them I think you start to pick up little things that you can work on and add to your game.”
The road to the championship was not an easy one for Shurna and his teammates. Despite breezing through group play and the preliminary rounds, the U.S. had to get past bronze medalists Croatia in order to battle Greece for the gold medal. In a rematch of the second round game in which USA came away with an 85-69 victory, the Americans had to overcome a tough Greek team in order to win the gold medal.
While with Northwestern Shurna has become one of the leading scorers for the Wildcats, leading the team in that category this season. However, with Team USA in 2009 he was averaging just over six points a game, but said he was willing to do anything. To Shurna basketball is basketball no matter what country he is in, as he stated that the international game is just basketball in comparing it to the USA game.
“I’m willing to fill any role,” said Shurna. “I was just honored to be a part of USA basketball, so whatever the coaches asked of me I was willing to do.”
After that dream run with the U19 team had ended, Shurna was asked to return the following year and once again helped his country return to championship form. Shurna and other talented young players traveled to Las Vegas this summer where they served as the scout team for the NBA players about to take part in the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” said Shurna. “It was an honor once again to play against some of the best players in the country from college and professionals.”
The professionals that Shurna went up against were often called the USA B-team by the media. Under head coach Mike Krzyzewski, Kevin Durant, Lamar Odom and Chauncy Billups led a young group of NBA players to the gold medal at the 2010 World Championship in Turkey. Even so, Shurna still was shocked that he would have the chance to play with them.
“It’s one of those pinch me moments,” said Shurna. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to have a chance to play with that caliber of guys, to see them work and just be around them.”
Even though he did not have time to work with Coach K, Shurna was still honored just for the chance to see the coach with the second most wins in college basketball history in action.
Shurna returns to the Wildcats for his junior season, and head coach Bill Carmody believes that what Shurna has gained from the entire experience was confidence in his abilities.
“What I think happened is he realized that I’m not as good as these guys but I can be on the same court as them,” Carmody said. “I think he saw himself a little differently after that, and certainly it was a boost in confidence.”
In the past two years Carmody stated that Shurna has gotten a taste of basketball life, and Shurna said he would not hesitate to play for Team USA again if given the chance. So, Shurna will just need to pinch himself to remind himself that he is living the dream of basketball.