LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — After Louisville finished atop college basketball this season, forwards Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock set their sights even higher: taking on the world.
Harrell, a rising sophomore, earned a gold medal when USA Basketball defeated Serbia 82-68 on July 7 in the title game of the FIBA Under 19 World Championship in Prague, Czech Republic.
Hancock, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2013 Final Four, was a member of the USA Basketball's World University Games team that finished ninth in the international competition that concluded earlier this week in Kazan, Russia.
Hancock was also the official flag bearer for the U.S. delegation in the July 6 opening ceremonies. He was chosen from more than 280 athletes competing in 18 sports.
"I was pretty honored," Hancock said of being chosen by his countrymen. "It kind of set me back a little bit. I'll never forget that one for the rest of my life, for sure."
Now the pair has returned home and will look to use the tough competition this summer as a springboard in defending the Cardinals' third national title.
"Most guys in the summertime are doing their workout in the morning and getting their shots up or playing pickup in the afternoon," said Hancock. "But I'm going to Colorado to play two-a-days against some of the best college players in the country."
After making the 12-man roster that included Creighton's Doug McDermott, Michigan State's Adreian Payne and Indiana's Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey in Colorado Springs, Hancock had his best game in a 94-85 loss that knocked the U.S. out of medal contention. Hancock had a game-high 27 points, hitting 5 of 6 of his three-pointers, and averaged nearly 11 points a game for the U.S.
"I feel like they have a lot of NBA guys," Hancock said of the Canadian squad that finished fourth. "I feel like our team had a bunch. Just that level of competition is not what you're going to see usually in the summer."
For Harrell, it was his second gold medal for the U.S. after winning last year's Under 18 tournament in Brazil. This year he took a more prominent role, starting all nine games and scoring a team-high 17 points in the championship. He averaged 10 points a game and shot 58 percent from the field.
That bigger role extended to leadership when Harrell called out his U.S. teammates who were late for workouts, telling them not to let it happen again.
"I kind of felt like if this was my own team I would have said the same thing," he said.
Harrell will be expected to take on a leadership role in his second year for the Cardinals. He "really didn't have that much responsibility" playing behind power forward Chane Behanan last year, he said, but with center Gorgui Dieng gone to the NBA he's been working on his rebounding and shooting range since returning home.
"We accomplished our goal, won the national championship, but that's not where it stops with me," Harrell said. "I want to take my game to the next level. I just kind of felt like I should get back in the gym and keep working."
Harrell and Hancock will have another chance to savor their 2013 accomplishments on Tuesday when President Barack Obama honors Louisville at the White House.
Both players said they are most looking forward to meeting and talking with the president but Hancock joked he's got a good question ready for the most powerful man in the world and noted basketball fan.
"I'm ready to ask him why he didn't pick us," Hancock said with a smile. "I'm excited. The whole team is excited. Everybody's a little giddy, I guess."