Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
College coaches endure USA Basketball blowout to recruit top kids
By ADAM ZAGORIAST. CATHARINES, ONTARIO — On the way out of Team USA’s 118-26 destruction of Panama here in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship on Monday night, I asked one high-profile college coach what he got out of the night.
“The kid knows I’m here,” said the coach, who was on hand so one of the many high-major players on the U.S. U18 team could see him sitting courtside.
And really that’s what the night was all about for the slew of high-major coaches who endured a game that should have been called at halftime — or maybe after the first quarter.
It was 45-0 before Panama scored its first basket of the night. It was 70-8 at halftime. And it was 99-17 after three quarters. All 12 Americans scored, led by Armando Bacot’s 17 points, Cole Anthony’s 14 and 12 apiece from Trayce Jackson-Davis, Tyrese Maxey and and Ayo Dosunmu.
“We just wanted to keep our foot on the gas and just play hard, not so much worry about our opponent as much as worry about getting better as a team,” saidBacot (Trinity Episcopal School/Richmond, Va.), who shot 6-of-9 from the field. “We’re still learning the things we need to know to keep going on in this championship.”
Still, Kentucky’s John Calipari, Michigan’s John Beilein, Purdue’s Matt Painter, South Carolina’s Frank Martin, Indiana’s Archie Miller, Iowa’s Fran McCaffery and assistants from a slew of other high-major programs stayed, many till the bitter end.
“It’s the USA playing and we’re recruiting,” said one high-major assistant coach who stayed until the bitter end. “If it wasn’t the USA, we probably wouldn’t be here.”
Of the 12 players on the USA roster, only five are committed — Maxey (Kentucky), Dosunmu (Illinois), Coby White (North Carolina), Quentin Grimes (Kansas,) and Kamaka Hepa (Texas).
That leaves seven high-profile players who are being recruited at the highest levels — Anthony, Bacot, Jackson-Davis, Matthew Hurt, Josiah James, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Rocket Watts.
For the coaches on hand, future conference titles, NCAA Tournament runs, NCAA championship and contract extensions may well be decided, at least in part, by where these players land.
So they came to the game — and talked and laughed with each other, took pictures with fans and generally tried to fight off the boredom. Just so these top players could see them there.
“The coaches who were at the game to make sure the players know they want them and are at the game,” Kansas and Team USA coach Bill Self said when I asked him about their motivation for being there. “I don’t think there was much evaluation going on in that game, but certainly to show that they were there. But I think the players did a good job of not playing to that. They did a good job of playing to each other and sharing the ball.”
Things should get tougher on Tuesday when the U.S. plays Puerto Rico (2-0). Looking ahead looms a potential gold-medal game with Canada (2-0).
“Yeah, Puerto Rico beat the Dominican pretty handily and we struggled with the Dominican [Monday] night until the fourth quarter,” Self said. “That will be a good game, and they can shoot. Hopefully we can pressure them out of being comfortable.”
Self and his staff also watched Canada earlier Monday when they beat Ecuador, 115-75.
“I was really impressed,” he said. “They’re really athletic and really fast and they have multiple, multiple high-major guys. They have three or four players who could player anywhere in the country. They’re really athletic and they get the ball down hill. If we get an opportunity to play them, we’ll probably have to play our best game.”
At least that figures to be more entertaining for the players — and the coaches.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
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.