BRADENTON, Fla. — Eighteen-year-old Eric Dailey, Jr. already has a full trophy case. The Palmetto-native's won three gold medals as a member of USA Basketball and he's going after his fourth next month.
"It’s a lot to take in and a lot excitement," he said after an outdoor workout. "I just keep going with the flow."
Dailey didn't make the final cut after his first tryout for Team USA, but sticking with the program has him in rare air when it comes to international accolades.
"Just being raised through this high-level basketball system, you only get better as a player and as a person," Dailey said.
Don Showalter is the Coach Director of Youth & Sport Development for USA Basketball. He has thousands of high school players to choose from, so he doesn't bother looking at internet rankings when it's time to fill out his rosters.
Showalter said not every great high school player is cut out for Team USA, but he likes the way Dailey has improved during his years in the program.
"He’s very versatile," Showalter said when describing Dailey's style of play. "I think he’s certainly gotten better, skill-wise, over the past several years. He’s able to hit the three-point shot. He’s really a good passer."
A lot of players have talent, but Showalter added that the desire to compete at a high level is what keeps you on the roster.
"The kids that really love basketball are gonna get better. Eric’s one of those guys. He just loves basketball," he said via video chat. "You know he’s going to work on his game. He understands his weaknesses. Those are the kinds of things that help a player get better if they love the game."
Eric's game has taken him to Europe several times, most recently to Serbia. This spring, Dailey became the first American high school player to play in the EuroLeague Final Four. He admits it's a different ball game when you're playing against grown men and pro athletes.
"You have to speed up your pace. You have to speed up your thinking process. You gotta more physical as well," Dailey said "You gotta move your game up. So it’s only going to make you better."
Dailey, who's won gold medals in Hungary and Mexico, said getting the chance to play in foreign countries has made him a better player on the court and a better person off the court.
"I'm open to a lot of different ways people think and people live life," he said. "The rules are not the same. The people aren’t the same, but that’s not a bad thing. You just have to adjust. I learned how to adjust to any environment I’m in."
Showalter was a high school coach for 42 years before accepting his current position in 2016. He has led ten teams to gold medals for Team USA; so he knows the value of providing young athletes with international experience.
"To just see other cultures, and eat different foods, and understand the political aspects of a different country are so much different," he said. "I think all those things certainly make a player more well-rounded."
Eric, who is college-eligible, played his high school ball at IMG Academy in Bradenton. He's taking advantage of a "developmental year" to work on his overall game and weigh his options.
Dailey has drawn interest from Division I schools, and he could've accepted a scholarship for the upcoming season. But he said he wants to sharpen his skills so he can compete at a higher level- whether that's in college or in the professional ranks.
"I have a good base. I can shoot. I can do a lot of good things," Dailey said. "But I want to work on mobility, agility. Being faster, stronger. Being that professional body and looking like a grown man when I get to the league."
Eric heads to USA Basketball training camp in South Carolina on July 26th. He hopes to get his chance to repeat as a champion at the FIBA 3-on-3 Championships in Hungary at the end of August.