Damian Hollis was in hot and sweaty Oklahoma, working out every day with teammate Rob Diggs, when he got the call. The Florida native had been participating in an intensive weightlifting routine in hopes of improving his 6-foot-8, 200-pound frame. He had been at this routine for more than three weeks but did not think twice about cutting it short when USA Basketball called.
A day later, Hollis was on the floor of the Dallas Mavericks' practice facility in Texas, trying out for the United States' U-19 team that would represent the country in the FIBA World Championships in Novi Sad, Serbia. Between running very little the previous three weeks and having twisted his ankle, Hollis had just one day to get in shape. It was not enough - the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie was cut from the squad.
Hollis got the second call one day before the team was to head overseas. Kansas forward Darrell Arthur had a broken bone and would not be able to compete in the games.
For Hollis, it was just the lucky break he had been hoping for. The U.S. team's coaching staff, which included GW men's basketball head coach Karl Hobbs, wanted Hollis. Hollis, of course, accepted the invitation.
"I'm thinking, 'I've gotta prove myself all over again,'" Hollis said in late October.
Hollis figures to be a major component in a Colonials team with one senior. His experience over the summer as a freshman could translate to major playing time for the Florida native.
After a few practices, Hollis and company hit the floor under the direction of Hobbs and United States' head coach Jerry Wainwright of DePaul University. Hollis, a sophomore, helped the squad beat Mali, 118-56, scoring 10 points and grabbing three rebounds in 16 minutes. Next on the docket was China. Once again, the United States had no trouble taking home the victory. Hollis scored eight against China in just 12 minutes of play.
His minutes continued to come sparingly with just two minutes in the next game against host Serbia, seven against Argentina. and 12 minutes and and five fouls against Brazil. Against Lithuania and the team's first game with France, Hollis never set foot on the court.
"I started off with a considerable amount of time, and then my time just went lower and lower," said Hollis, who averaged 3.8 points per game during the tournament. "I don't know. I couldn't get a chance to really show my talent, so whenever I could, I got in and did what I could, and then came right back out."
From the sideline, Hobbs had the same feeling.
"I thought he played really well there. I thought he played well enough that he deserved to play a few more minutes," Hobbs said. "When you have a team of such terrific players, minutes are pretty hard to come by, but he performed well when he got his opportunities."
After beating eight straight, opponents, the United States team overachieved, as Hobbs would say, and found themselves in a place that Hobbs said no one had given them a chance to get to: the gold medal game. Though the Americans had already beaten Serbia once in the tournament, they struggled at the foul line and fell to the hosts 74-69. Hollis saw only three minutes of action in the final game, but made it count when he drained a three-pointer, his only shot attempt of the game.
Returning home with a silver medal around his neck, Hollis called his 10 days in a USA jersey time well spent.
"It was a real big learning experience because I had to make my time worthwhile," he said. "If I got in for two minutes, I had to get a few rebounds, get a few points."
During those 10 days, he got to spend valuable time off-the-court with Hobbs, who is known for his intense demeanor during games and practices.
"We talked a lot and I got to know him a lot better," Hollis said. "We got to talk about the season, what I should do and what I should build on."
Hollis said he would like to play on the team again, but he would not be satisfied with just making the team.
"Yeah, I'd like to go over there (again), but I wouldn't like to sit the amount of time that I sat for," he said. "I'd like to get more time to maybe make a difference on the team."