One Coach and Six Players Who Impressed at U19 Worlds
The USA returns from the U19 World Championship in Prague with just their second gold medal since 1991.
Along the way the Americans faced some tough foreign competition as well, including an 82-68 victory over Serbia in the final.
Here are one coach and six players who helped themselves at the event:
USA Coach Billy Donovan: The Florida head man has now won two NCAA championships (2006 and ’07) and gold medals at the U18 and U19 levels. As Andy Katz pointed out, Donovan should now be in line to coach in the FIBA World Basketball Cup in 2018 and with the 2020 Olympic team. When Coach K steps down after the 2016 Olympics, Donovan has done more than enough to prove he can handle the big job. “I feel very, very honored my country asked me to coach this team. I think USA Basketball could have picked a lot of coaches who would have done a wonderful job,” Donovan said.
Aaron Gordon, USA (Arizona): Despite being the third-youngest player on the USA team, Gordon took home tournament MVP honors by averaging USA highs of 12.6 points and 6.2 rebounds a game, plus 2.0 steals a game while shooting 61.2 percent from the field. “I was surprised when I was named all-tournament and once I got all-tournament I thought ‘Hey, maybe I can get MVP too, here’ and then they said my name,” he said. “I really didn’t even hear them say my name at first I had to ask my teammates. But I’m very honored.” Gordon said before the event he wants to be a point guard, and it should be interesting to see how much he handles the ball at Arizona before he likely becomes a top-five pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Montrezl Harrell, USA (Louisville): The 6-7 Harrell doesn’t even start for Louisville but has now come up huge in two gigantic games. He went for 20 points and seven rebounds in the Big East final last March when the Cardinals stormed back from a halftime deficit to crush Syracuse in the final. And he put up 17 points, four rebounds and four blocks in the finals against Serbia in Prague. Watch out for Harrell and his frontcourt-mate Chane Behanan this season as the Cards look to defend their NCAA title.
Jahlil Okafor, USA (Uncommitted): One of just two high school players on the USA roster along with his friend Justise Winslow, the 6-10 Okafor made the all-tournament team and proved an invaluable component of the winning team by averaging 10.8 points and 4.8 rebounds. He has now won gold medals at the U16, U17 and U19 levels. “I thought the thing that changed our team was we had a great group coming back from last year (2012 USA U18 Championship Team) that had some experience, and I think the adding of Nigel (Williams-Goss), (Aaron) Gordon, (Jahlil) Okafor, Justise Winslow, those guys being a little bit younger so to speak, added a different element to our team,” Donovan said. Okafor will now turn around and head to the Peach Jam this week with his Mac Irvin Fire. He is considering eight schools and has said he wants to play in college with his close friend, Tyus Jones.Marcus Smart, USA (Oklahoma State): The USA floor general had 11 points in the final and averaged 9.6 points and 2.2 assists for the event. From the start, Donovan praised him as an invaluable communicator and leader who made his teammates better. Smart opted to skip this year’s NBA Draft in order to return to campus and improve his game. With this on his resume, he now heads back to Oklahoma State as a proven winner as a sophomore. With another strong season there, there’s not reason he can’t be a top-five pick in 2014.
Tyler Ennis, Canada (Syracuse): Despite battling the flu that kept him in bed for part of the tournament, the 6-2 Canadian led the tournament in scoring at 20.9 points per game, including a 42-point outburst in a triple-OT win over China. Ennis was forced to take on more of a scoring role after Canuck star Andrew Wiggins opted to stay at Kansas for summer school. With Michael Carter-Williams now a rookie with the Philadelphia 76ers, Ennis will slide right in and take over the starting point guard duties as the Orange head to the ACC.
Dante Exum, Australia (Uncommitted): The 6-5 Australian star averaged 18.2 points for the event, good for sixth best, and reinforced notions that he could be a lottery pick in the 2014 Draft. For now, he’s keeping his options open and recently told SNY.tv that he wants to go to college before the NBA. Indiana is the clubhouse leader for his services but Exum said Michigan, Louisville, LSU, SMU, Tulsa and Kentucky are recruiting him hard.
**For more coverage of the USA U19 and U16 teams, click here.Follow Adam Zagoria on TwitterAnd like ZAGS on Facebook
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.