Thursday, July 4, 2013
USA U-19 Team Offers a Glimpse Into Future
Normally, July is about as dead as dead gets for the average college basketball fan. Sure, coaches are out recruiting full force and the Dave Teleps of the world are busy telling those who will listen about the next big thing out of the LeBron James Skill Academy or one of the Vegas camps, but that's a little like a baseball fan knowing who the star shortstop is at AA. Sure, it's pertinent information, but it's a little deeper than most people are willing to go. For the most part, summer is the college hoops Sahara, with barely a glimmer of an oasis on the distant horizon when practice starts up this fall.
There is one spot of real college basketball news right now, though — the Under-19 USA team currently competing at the World Championships in the Czech Republic. With a team comprised of current and very-soon-to-be college stars, college hoops junkies have a chance now to get a preview of the guys who will likely take a starring turn next March — or perhaps March 2015 or 2016.
Take for instance last year's U-18 team that won the World Championship in Brazil. That team was led by Julius Randle, now headed to Kentucky as the top player in the most heralded recruiting class since Michigan's Fab Five. Also on the team: Montrezl Harrell, last seen cutting down the nets as a key reserve for the National Champion Louisville Cardinals; Rasheed Sulaimon, who averaged double-digits as a freshman during Duke's Elite Eight run last season; and Marcus Smart, a Sporting News first-team All-American who could have been a NBA draft lottery pick after averaging more than 15 points per game during his freshman season at Oklahoma State.
This year's U-19 team, undefeated at 5-0 through Tuesday's action, includes several holdovers from last year's U-18 team, including Harrell, Sulaimon and Smart. But though Randle isn't back, there are some other major talents on the roster that you will know if you don't already:
Aaron Gordon: The incoming (likely one-and-done) freshman for Sean Miller at Arizona has been the leading scorer (14 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (6.4 rpg) so far for the U-19 team. Despite a returning cast that includes several high-profile big men from the 2012 class (Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley), plus holdover Nick Johnson and senior transfer point guard T.J. McConnell, Gordon is the primary reason you can expect to see the Wildcats in preseason top-five lists in a couple of months.
Justise Winslow: Currently the No. 15-ranked recruit for the class of 2014, Winslow is the second-leading scorer (11.8 ppg) and leading rebounder (7 rpg) on the U19 team. With offers from Arizona, Kansas, Duke, Florida, and North Carolina (among others), Winslow, a small forward from Houston, is a name you will hear a great deal more over the next couple of years.
And of course, you can't have an article on the U-19 team without mentioning Jahlil Okafor, the No. 1 recruit for the class of 2014. The 6-foot-10, 265 lb. high school senior from Chicago is averaging over 11 points and five rebounds in just 14 minutes per game so far in the World Championships. Arizona is also in on Okafor, as are Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, and Ohio State.
U19 head coach Billy Donovan (Florida), plus assistants Shaka Smart (VCU) and Tony Bennett (Virginia), have made a point to not just load the roster with stars (and star egos). Along with the high-profile recruits and budding NBA draft lottery tickets, the roster is filled out with bangers Jarnell Stokes (second-leading rebounder in the SEC as a junior at Tennessee last season) and Mike Tobey (6-11 sophomore at Virginia), hard-nosed defender Elfrid Payton (led Sun Belt in steals as sophomore at Louisiana-Lafayette last season), and quality depth on the perimeter with James Robinson (sophomore at Pittsburgh), Nigel Williams-Goss (incoming freshman at Washington and biggest surprise contributor on the roster) and Michael Frazier II (sophomore at Florida).
So if you happen to find yourself depressed there's no college basketball on this weekend, don't lower yourself to the level of the NBA Summer League. Just find your way over to FIBA.com. It'll cost you a few bucks, but hey, it's America's weekend. How better to cap off the Fourth of July than by watching some of the nation's best young hoops stars dominate the world?