Final impressions from USA Camp

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – When USA Basketball calls, high school players listen. The USA Basketball Fall Developmental National Team Mini-Camp was a must-attend event. A two day, four-sessions event with 46 players in attendance allowed observers to catch a glimpse of not only what Team USA’s U16 roster will look like next summer, but also a chance to evaluate players in a setting conducive to assessing talent.

A multitude of players showcased their talents for the coaches. There were scorers like 2015 SG Charles Matthews (Chicago, Ill./St. Rita) and 2015 SG Eric Davis (Saginaw, Mich./Arthur Hill). There were also big bodies in 2015 PF Stephen Zimmerman (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman) and 2015 C Jessie Govan (Queens Village, N.Y./St. Mary’s). 2015 SG Isaiah Briscoe (Union, N.J./St. Benedict’s) and 2015 F Malachi Richardson (Hamilton, N.J./Roselle Catholic) are versatile players. Sophomore bigs Daniel Giddens (Mableton, Ga./Wheeler) and PF Thomas Bryant (Rochester, N.Y./Bishop Kearney) each had their moments and distinguished themselves.

After 48 hours at altitude, here are the takeaways.

Giles, Jackson seize the moment

Power forward Harry Giles (Winston Salem, N.C./Wesleyan) and small forward Josh Jackson (Detroit, Mich./Consortium) are elite talents. As an evaluator, they’re exciting because heading into high school they appear to have the type of ceiling that very few players in each class posses. In addition to their talent was a toughness that set them apart from their peers. Giles is a combination of finesse, power and poise. He put away most of his chances and there’s already a hint of touch to his midrange. Jackson was the best defensive player at the camp regardless of position. His challenges at the rim, ball deflections and play in transition were outstanding. Both he and Giles, instead of tiring, seemingly got stronger as the event progressed.

There were 21 members of the Class of 2016 in attendance. While you can’t profile an entire class coming off a single event, the gut feeling here is that this crop of big men will contribute positively to college basketball and there are also exciting wings like V.J. King (Akron, Ohio/SVSM). King was the first freshman out of the gates on Saturday and the game comes naturally to him. He has an excellent demeanor and approach to the game.

Rabb, Stone assert themselves

One of the positives for USA Basketball from the weekend had to be the willingness of power forward Ivan Rabb (Oakland, Calif./Bishop O’Dowd) and center Diamond Stone (Milwaukee, Wisc./Dominican) to take center stage. Both are ranked in the top three in their class and each took steps to cement their candidacy for the team. Rabb was terrific on the glass and is a fine complement to Stone with his shot-blocking ability. Stone also flashed a solid midrange game and exhibited the best touch in camp. These guys have history and appear to like each other. Last summer they battled at LeBron Camp. Mix in a Giles, who looked like a serious candidate for the club, and USA has a strong frontcourt mix with room for more bodies. Spots will be hotly contested come June.

Newman could be USA’s Swiss Army Knife

Sophomore Malik Newman (Jackson, Miss./Callaway) owns a considerable reputation as a scorer. After two days of watching him operate, he’s got more to his game. Newman looked every bit like a combo guard. “I’ll really play any position they want me to,” he said. When pressed, Newman himself couldn’t say which was his natural position. For the time being, playing as a secondary handler, part-time decision maker and full-time threat from 3-point range is a niche that is needed.

Patience with the point guards

Derryck Thornton (Simi Valley, Calif./Sierra Canyon) would seem like a possible candidate to make the team’s backcourt given his strong close to camp. It will be interesting to see how he and long-term option Seventh Woods (Columbia, S.C./Hammond School) play through the next event. Woods has a heavy dose of athleticism and finishing ability, while Thornton is ahead of the pack as a floor general and midrange shooter. Also, what Thornton did from a communication standpoint last weekend was an encouraging sign.

This season will be telling as the players will command their high school teams on a regular basis before having to do it for USA. A great example is Bryant Crawford (Kensington, Md./Gonzaga). Though only a sophomore, he didn’t start at the point as a freshman last year while serving as Nate Britt’s understudy. The call here is for patience to allow this talented bunch shake itself out. Will someone who wasn’t at camp emerge during the year to play his way into a tryout?

Keeping youth in perspective

Once they drape that “USA” across the front of your jersey, expectations change. With the jersey comes the responsibility and pressure to perform at a higher level. The reality is that at fall camp there were six 14-year-old kids. Think about that for a minute. Seventh Woods was 13 less than two months ago and now he’s out here vying for a chance to wear the red, white and blue despite not yet playing a varsity game. He was not alone in those circumstances.

All of the players out here are talented. Most of them are extremely young and will go through physical and mental changes over the course of the next few months. For me, it took a session to put these guys into the proper context. We’re so used to elite players doing things at a higher level that you get used to a certain level of play. The reality is most of this group is capable of playing at a high level but they deserve and should be given the time to evolve. Recalibrating my expectations made the evaluation process a lot easier.

Shooting still at a premium

USA Basketball always needs shooters. It’s why Michael Redd once made an Olympic team and why Conner Frankamp was so valuable last summer to the U17 squad. Prior to the final session, Newman was the only guy who seemed entirely comfortable behind the line (the international line is further than high school). A combo guard, Newman could etch out a spot on the team for this very reason. It’s also why any number of marksmen could emerge during the high school year and have a shot at making the roster come June.

IQ shouldn’t be a problem with this bunch

Our counterparts internationally have a profile for USA Basketball. Generally, according to USA coach Don Showalter, they see the national teams as a unit comprised of athletes who aren’t swollen with fundamentals, play as individuals and collectively don’t have strong basketball IQ’s.

The group of players is hoping to buck that trend. There are signs pointing to the makeup of Team USA as one of the more sound teams. The majority of campers seemed willing and able to play the game the correct way. Kudos to Bryant , who took a charge as the lone defender in a 4-on-1 situation. Guys like King, Thornton, Giles and Jayson Tatum (St. Louis, Mo./Chaminade) demonstrated an excellent feel for the game.

Long-term stocks

The neat thing about this camp is that everyone is running their own race. Not every 15 year old is ready for the setting at this moment. Some are more advanced and experienced while others, though equally if not more talented, are months or maybe even a year away from making their mark. That’s the beauty in comparing players.

Tatum is a great example. He’s limited physically right now but the tools, size and length are too exciting to ignore. He’s got no business corralling a one-handed rebound in traffic; yet he did. He hasn’t been exposed to some of the camps or trips that the others have and they’re just as unfamiliar with him as he is with them. Regardless, his talent and potential stood out.

Amongst the standout long-term stocks (guys who aren’t even close physically) in the building were: Giles, 2016 Amir Coffey (New Hope, Minn./Hopkins), King, 2016 Malik Monk (Lapento, Ark./East Poinsett), Giddens , 2016 Perry Dozier (Columbia, S.C./Spring Valley) and Woods.

Length catches your eye

Defensively, length is an important attribute. Heck, most coaches would fess up and if possible build everything they can around it. Jim Boeheim won’t sacrifice much for length and at USA Basketball, there was some to go around.

The guy who used his length the most was Jackson. He conjured up images of Stacey Augmon, the poster boy for length. Horace Spencer is an energizer bunny with long arms and he has a fondness for blocking shots and snagging rebounds off the cylinder.

Who does he play like?

For me, comparisons aren’t natural. The question comes up all the time: “Who does he play like?” I’m not one to force the issue but there were a few kids at camp that drew comparisons stylistically to older players in college and beyond.

DeRon Davis (Denver, Colo./Overland) is equal parts power, strength and perimeter touch to midrange. The thinking here is Brandon Bass.

Spencer is from Philly as is Syracuse sophomore Rakeem Christmas. Spencer has more offense than Christmas, plays above the rim like him and is a defensive guy first. Both could stand to be more consistent.

Henry Ellenson (Rice Lake, Wisc./Rice Lake) could win a Cole Aldrich look-a-like contest and they have a similar lumberjack build. Aldrich is three inches taller, but Ellenson has a better jump shot.

Jackson reminded me so much of former Final Four MVP Corey Brewer I was double-taking all weekend.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying he’s on this level but Woods brings athleticism to the point, similar to a Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook. He owns freaky athletic attributes for the position.

What’s next?

The players who attended camp (11 in all) born in 1996 will be eligible for the USA U18 squad in 2014. The remainder of campers are vying for positions on the 2013 U16 team. That squad will evolve into the U17 team in summer of 2014. The task for USA Basketball in the coming months is to evaluate what it learned last weekend, watch for newcomers to emerge and refine the roster for June’s team camp.