The roster was whittled down to 16 after four very intense sessions of scrimmaging as the team enters its final preparations in advance of the 2013 U19 FIBA World Championship played June 27-July 7 in Prague, Czech Republic. It will be cut down further to 12 before the team heads to Washington D.C. next week for an additional training camp before making the trip across the Atlantic.
This US team qualified for the event along with three other squads at the U18 FIBA Americas Championship in Brazil last summer, led by many of the same players participating here this week, along with head coach Billy Donovan.
The 16 player roster currently reads as follow
NAME HGT WGT YOG SCHOOL HOMETOWN
Ryan Arcidiacono 6-3 190 2016 Villanova Langhorne, PA
Damyean Dotson 6-5 200 2016 Oregon Houston, TX
Michael Frazier 6-4 185 2016 Florida Tampa, FL
Marcus Georges-Hunt 6-6 215 2016 Georgia Tech College Park, GA
Aaron Gordon 6-8 210 2013 Archbishop Mitty H.S./*Arizona San Jose, CA
Jerami Grant 6-8 210 2016 Syracuse Bowie, MD
Montrezl Harrell 6-8 215 2016 Louisville Tarboro, NC
Jahlil Okafor 6-10 253 2014 Whitney Young H.S. Chicago, IL
Elfrid Payton 6-3 170 2016 Louisiana-Lafayette Gretna, LA
James Robinson 6-3 200 2016 Pittsburgh Mitchellville, MD
Marcus Smart 6-4 200 2016 Oklahoma State Flower Mound, TX
Jarnell Stokes 6-8 250 2015 Tennessee Memphis, TN
Rasheed Sulaimon 6-3 180 2016 Duke Houston, TX
Mike Tobey 6-11 227 2016 Virginia Monroe, NY
Nigel Williams-Goss 6-3 180 2013 Findlay Prep/*Washington Happy Valley, OR
Justise Winslow 6-6 210 2014 St. John's H.S. Houston, TX
The ten players already released after three days of tryouts were:
Bryce Alford 6-3 175 2013 La Cueva H.S./*UCLA Albuquerque, NM
Brandon Ashley 6-8 190 2016 Arizona San Francisco, CA
Canyon Barry 6-6 195 +2017 College of Charleston Colorado Springs, CO
Robert Carter 6-8 250 2016 Georgia Tech Thomasville, GA
Kris Dunn 6-3 185 2016 Providence Oakdale, CT
Javan Felix 6-0 180 2016 Texas New Orleans, LA
Shaq Goodwin 6-8 245 2016 Memphis Atlanta, GA
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 6-6 205 2013 Chester, PA/*Arizona Chester, PA
Rodney Purvis 6-4 190 2016 ^Connecticut Raleigh, NC
Devin Thomas 6-9 240 2016 Wake Forest Harrisburg, PA
USA Basketball Methodology
In terms of the players cut, there is little doubt that continuity is the name of the game for USA Basketball these days, not just for this U19 team but at every level of competition the US participates in at the moment. Six of the players who are still in the running to be on the final roster were members of last year's U18 FIBA Americas Championship team that won gold in Brazil last summer, as are two of the coaches, Billy Donovan and Shaka Smart.
USA Basketball Men's National Team Director Sean Ford reiterated that emphasis on continuity over and over again, pointing out with pride how Andre Drummond and Bradley Beal started as members of the U16 National team, continued with the U17 National Team, before eventually entering the pool of candidates for the senior national team as part of the USA Basketball Men's National Team Mini-Camp this summer.
The talent identification starts as early as possible these days, as USA Basketball is now regularly bringing dozens of the top 14, 15 and 16 year olds to Colorado Springs as part of their Developmental National Team. The goal of this is give them a taste of USA Basketball and try and begin to instill the fundamentals and values they would like to see them embody as they mature and became candidates for international play later on in their career.
Those that make a commitment to USA Basketball at an early stage, and continue to come back year after year will undoubtedly position themselves to reap the benefits of their efforts in the future. That's something that national director of USA Basketball, Jerry Colangelo, told us back in 2009 already, when this philosophy was just starting to be implemented. We think it's important to be in the pipeline, Colangelo told us at the time. If you're not in the pipeline, your expectations should be limited, because just like I told our players the last three or four years, those who have paid their dues have built up equity. You can't just show up in an Olympic year and expect, I don't care who you are, that just doesn't fly.
2013 U19 Training Camp
The sense of urgency was obviously very high here in Colorado Springs among USA Basketball coaches and officials, as the U19 age group has historically struggled in international competition. This team has only won gold twice in the past 26 years, and is coming off a very disappointing showing in Latvia two years where they finished fifth after losing in the quarterfinals to Russia. Four years ago a team coached by Jamie Dixon and led by Gordon Hayward, Trey Thompkins, Klay Thompson, Seth Curry and Tyshawn Taylor helped the US claim their first U19 World Championship in 18 years, and this current group will try to follow in their footsteps.
Clearly a great deal of thought and effort went into the construction of the roster in terms of the caliber of talent that was recruited as well as the potential chemistry and makeup of the group, with a definite premium being put on character, work ethic, team play, defense and outside shooting. Returning starting point guard, potential top-5 draft pick and ultimate glue guy Marcus Smart was a huge coup to start off, but adding the likes of Aaron Gordon, Montrezl Harrell, Jahlil Okafor, Rasheed Sulaimon and Jarnell Stokes gives the team experienced players at the international level with considerable mismatch potential thanks to their terrific physical attributes.
Unfortunately this event was closed to NBA scouts and executives by the League office due to the presence of two high school players (Okafor and Justise Winslow). NBA personnel will be allowed to attend the U19 World Championship in Prague, though, and indeed many of them are planning on doing exactly that, not just to watch the American players but also due to the presence of Dario Saric, Dante Exum and some very talented teams from Canada (minus Andrew Wiggins), Serbia, Brazil and Spain amongst others.
The last session we attended Sunday gave us a great taste of what we can expect to see from this team when we make the trek to Prague later this month. An active, intense, full-court pressing/trapping style is being implemented, which should come as no surprise considering the coaching staff that is in place and how long, athletic and defensive minded this roster is with the likes of Montrezl Harrell, Aaron Gordon, Jerami Grant, Rasheed Sulaimon, Marcus Smart, Elfrid Payton and others.
The team is being led by a decorated coaching staff, headed by Florida's Billy Donovan and assisted by Virginia's Tony Bennett, VCU's Shaka Smart, as well as court coaches Ed Cooley (Providence), Tim Ryan (College of Central Florida), and Buzz Williams (Marquette).
The staff put in some simple half-court plays at the beginning of each practice session, including a basic 2-3 zone, but for the most part just rolled the ball out and gave the players the freedom to show what they can bring to the table if they make the roster. There was not a lot of structure to the scrimmages at first, as the players adjusted to the altitude in Colorado Springs and playing with each other for the very first time, but the level of play gradually improved in each session.
The ball-movement and defensive rotations got crisper as players started communicating more effectively and playing to each other's strengths. From the very first whistle the intensity level was simply off the charts, though, as the players realized right away that they cannot waste a single moment in trying to show that they are deserving of a spot on the plane to the Czech Republic.
These types of events can be a real wake-up call for some, as nearly every single one of these prospects has been highly pursued and fawned over at every level of competition they've played at, with the thought of their services not being needed likely never having entered their minds. With only 12 spots available to go around, the competitive juices were flowing right from the start, and players were diving on the floor for loose balls, driving to the rim with reckless abandon and treating every seemingly meaningless scrimmage like Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Coaching Staff Interviews
Today: The Ten Players Released from the Roster. Tomorrow: The sixteen that made the cut.
Canyon Barry, 6-6, Redshirt Freshman, Shooting Guard, College of Charleston
Bryce Alford, 6-3, Freshman, Shooting Guard, UCLA
Kris Dunn, 6-3, Sophomore, Point Guard, Providence
Javan Felix, 6-0, Sophomore, Point Guard, Texas
Rodney Purvis, 6-4, Sophomore, Shooting Guard, UConn
A key member of last summer's undefeated U18 FIBA Americas championship team, Purvis did not make it past the first round of cuts this time, seemingly looking like he's at a serious crossroad at his point of his career. Overdribbling for long stretches, taking bad shots, turning the ball over and struggling to make his presence felt defensively, Purvis could not exhibit his considerable talent in a consistent fashion as he continues to be plagued by bad habits and poor fundamentals. His inconsistent perimeter shot was a major hindrance to his chances of making the roster, as his flawed mechanics did not do him any favors in trying to establish himself a threat without the ball in his hands, while his poor decision making made it difficult for him to operate as a ball-dominant lead guard like he was accustomed to at the high school level.
Despite the seemingly harsh criticism, Purvis nevertheless demonstrated the significant talent-level that made him a top-10 recruit in high school and one of the most sought over players in the nation just a year ago. He's a superior athlete, is outstanding in transition, and possesses excellent scoring instincts to go along with his strong physical attributes. A year off under the tutelage of former NBA point guard Kevin Ollie may be exactly what the doctor ordered for this very talented combo guard, as he'll have to work extremely hard on his unconventional shooting mechanics and try to improve his knowledge of the game as much as possible to make up for lost time once he does step back on the court 18 months from now.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, 6-6, Freshman, Small Forward, Arizona
Hollis-Jefferson did many of the things that allowed him make a name for himself at the high school level, namely providing terrific energy on both ends of the floor, hustling non-stop for loose balls and shutting down anyone he was asked to guard from position 1-4. His lateral quickness is nothing short of astounding, as he regularly went toe to toe with opposing point guards and put relentless pressure as they attempted to move the ball out of the backcourt and get their team into the offense.
Nevertheless, his offensive limitations were extremely glaring, as he not only could not provide any type of outside shooting presence with his distinct lack of range, but also struggled to convert shots around the basket in the half-court and in transition, often turning the ball over when he tried to create his own shot.
Hollis-Jefferson's glaring weaknesses, coupled with his inexperience in college and international play were likely too much for the US coaching staff to get past. He should have a pretty good sense by now that he simply has to improve his offensive skill-level if he's to establish himself as a legit prospect by the time he's finished at Arizona.
Brandon Ashley, 6-8, Sophomore, Power Forward, Arizona
6-8, very smooth, and very much looking the part of a major prospect on first glance, Ashley has done little to improve his frame since the first time we saw him a few years back, leaving many question marks regarding how much time he's spent in the weight room. Not quite strong, aggressive or tough enough to bang with the other post players down low, but not skilled enough to spend as much time on the perimeter as he seems fond of, Ashley is very much stuck in between positions at the moment. He can make an occasional jump-shot with his feet set, but is just an average ball-handler, having a difficult time finishing around the basket through contact. Defensively, he lacks intensity in a major way and regularly had rebounds taken away from him in traffic, not being helped by his short wingspan and underdeveloped frame.
Ashely is in the right place at Arizona under Sean MIller to try and overcome his shortcomings and still make the most of his considerable talent-level, but he will have to show a better motor and apply himself more consistently on both ends of the floor if he's to reach his potential. Getting cut may have been a blessing in disguise for him, as he clearly has a lot of work ahead of him.
Robert Carter, 6-8, Sophomore, Power Forward, Georgia Tech
Carter can put the ball in the basket from anywhere on the floor, as he can shoot the ball from the perimeter (even out to the 3-point line), attack his opponent off the dribble, or operate with his back to the basket with smooth footwork and a variety of fakes and spin-moves, even making some interesting passes from time to time out of the high or low post. He has excellent instincts on this end of the floor, to go along with soft hands and reliable touch, making him a real mismatch threat at this stage of his development as a modern day power forward.
Unfortunately, Carter also has his fair share of weaknesses, many of which are correctable, but are not in line with this team's philosophy. For one, he showed up significantly out of shape, as it didn't take long until the altitude of Colorado Springs took the wind out of him. His intensity level in general leaves a lot to be desired, as you regularly see him jogging up and down the court lackadaisically, not having too many qualms about getting beat up the floor by opposing big men. His defense and rebounding weren't up to par with some of the other big men in this setting, largely due to his average motor.
All in all, Carter is a prospect NBA teams will certainly be monitoring to see how he continues to progress. His offensive skill-level at the power forward position makes him a unique prospect, but he will have to make a commitment to bringing more effort and paying attention to the other parts of his game if he's to reach his full potential as a basketball player.
Shaq Goodwin, 6-8, Sophomore, PF/C, Memphis
Goodwin looks to have trimmed down significantly from where he was at this stage last year, likely a product of Memphis' terrific strength and conditioning program. He may even be a little too skinny at this point, particularly in the lower body, which made it difficult for him to defend the low post at times and may have played a role in him being released from the roster.
Goodwin is not an overly skilled big man, mostly relying on his long arms and terrific athleticism to make his presence felt around the basket. He was very active on the offensive glass for example, often rising up in a crowd and coming up with some emphatic putback dunks. He's also an excellent target for lobs thanks to his solid hands and terrific leaping ability. Not showing much of a low post repertoire, or a polished perimeter game, Goodwin is mostly reliant on teammates to get him the ball in position to score.
Defensively, Goodwin is a live body when his motor is fully turned on, being a real playmaker thanks to his physical attributes, getting his hands on plenty of blocks, steals and deflections. He's a surprisingly poor defensive rebounder as he rarely boxes out and doesn't show the best instincts pursuing loose balls off the glass, something he needs to work on considering his other limitations.
All in all, Goodwin seems to have made progress from where he was last summer and certainly from the first time we saw him two years ago, which is a good sign for his development. He still has plenty of room to grow as a player in terms of his skill-level and knowledge of the game, but has an interesting frame-work to build off of long term.
Devin Thomas, 6-9, Sophomore, Power Forward, Wake Forest
Solidly built at 6-9, 240 pounds, Thomas is not an overly impressive athlete, looking decidedly below the rim on his finishes. He brings a terrific combination of intensity, smarts and fundamentals to his position, though, competing extremely hard on every position and showing a very good feel for the game considering his age. He ran the floor hard, battled inside and made some very impressive passes throughout the week, while showing excellent awareness on the defensive end.
Offensively, Thomas is primarily a back to the basket threat, even if it remains to be seen how this part of his game might translate to higher level competition. His jump-shot is very flat and he's not much of a threat outside the paint, while his lack of explosiveness makes it difficult for him to convert around the basket in traffic at times.
Thomas was one of the best teammates on the squad, which made it appear that he might have a real chance to make the roster based on intangibles alone. He was constantly talking on both ends of the floor and encouraging everyone around him, seemingly possessing very strong leadership skills and a good work ethic.
His upside perhaps isn't as high as some of the other players on this roster, but if he continues to polish his skill-set and can find a way to improve his versatility on both ends of the floor, he's the type of player who could emerge as a prospect later on in his career.