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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.
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Friday / January 18.
  • Bill Self says coaching USA Basketball is a recruiting advantage for Kansas — but may be a bigger disadvantage

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    ST. CATHARINES, ONTARIO — From Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski to Kentucky’s John Calipari to Texas’ Shaka Smart, the men who have coached with USA Basketball have often been said to have a huge recruiting advantage over their competitors.

    By virtue of coaching either the U.S. National Team (Coach K) — or a youth team such as the U19 or U18 side (Calipari and Smart) — these coaches get unprecedented access to some of the top high school players in the nation during the summer. Often these coaches are recruiting several of the players they coach in USA Basketball.

    As a result, USA Basketball changed the rules two years ago to allow college coaches to attend international events such as the FIBA Americas U18 Championship here this week and next month’s  FIBA U17 World Championship in Argentina — as well as the recent tryouts in Colorado Springs, CO — even though they don’t coincide with NCAA live periods.

    Kansas coach Bill Self is now coaching the USA U18 team and is once again in a position to both win a gold medal — and coach both one of his future players and two players he’s recruiting in the Class of 2019.

    It’s not lost on many of the other coaches here that Self’s starting five for the first three pool play games includes Kansas signee Quentin Grimes plus Matthew Hurt and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, two elite players Kansas is heavily recruiting.

    “Yeah definitely,” Grimes told me when I asked if Self has a recruiting advantage. “That’s probably how it was last year with Coach Cal. We’ll see how it works out this year.”

    A year ago, Calipari coached the U19 team that lost in the semifinals of the World Championship in Cairo, Egypt to an R.J. Barrett-led Canada team.

    Calipari kept two Kentucky players — Hamidou Diallo and P.J. Washingtonon the roster and also brought in five players to tryouts with Kentucky offers. 

    Of those five players — Bol Bol, Louis King, Romeo Langford, Cam Reddish and Immanuel Quickley — only Quickley ended up at Kentucky. Bol was cut from the team and signed with Oregon as did King. Langford chose Indiana and Reddish landed at Duke.

    Now Self is in a similar position.

    “I think my responsibility is to coach the team,” Self told me here Tuesday night after Team USA routed Puerto Rico 115-71 in a game that saw Kentucky-bound point guard Tyrese Maxey suffer an ankle injury.

    “And if they probably are turned off by how I coach, it may not be a good fit anyway,” he joked.

    He added: “Everybody that coaches these teams has somebody on these teams that they’re potentially recruiting and I know that we’ve been eliminated with a couple kids that didn’t make the team. So people say it can be a huge recruiting advantage. Well, it also can be maybe a bigger recruiting disadvantage because all the guys that you recruit, they can’t make the team.”

    For example, Keion Brooks, who didn’t make the final 12-man USA roster, recently issued a list of his Top 10 schools and Kansas wasn’t on it. Brooks told me the cut had nothing to do with his list.

    “No,” he said.

    But some at Kansas believe it may have been a factor.

    Bryan Antoine, another top Class of 2019 player, was cut from the U18 trials, but has Kansas among his final five schools.

    “What we try to do is get the kids to understand that we’re not necessarily picking favorites, picking best players, none of that,” Self said. “We’re trying to pick the team with the best pieces together to give you the best chance. Some people need shooting, some people need size and a lot of the time you don’t need two of the same players out of the 12.”

    He added: “When you cut it down to 18, all of them can play. But when you try to get it down to 12, there’s deserving guys t may not [make it] because the piece doesn’t fit as good as you think.”

    He added that the USA Basketball Selection Committee also plays a big role.

    “The Committee has a huge say in it, and they’ve all coached these teams for years,” Self said. “They know if an injury occurs, what’s the most important position to have extras and things like that so they shared that with us.”

    One Committee member who requested anonymity concurred with Self, and added that other coaches felt it was “unfair” that USA Basketball coaches in general got access to players in the summer.

    “Yes, they did feel it was unfair,” the Selection Committee member said. “It is also unfair to the coaches who coach the teams, too. If they cut [players], or don’t play them as much as they like or have to discipline them on the trip, the player will drop them off his list. It has helped and hurt the actual coaches on the trips.”

    For his part, Grimes said he’s getting a “head start” playing for his future college coach in this event. He’s expected to play a major role at Kansas after the graduation of Devonte’ Graham.

    “It was great to get a head start and just see what he wants to run offensively and defensively,” Grimes told me of playing for Self.  “We lost Devonte and Lagerald [Vick] so it’s just me. I can go in there and play on the ball or off the ball with [incoming freshman] Devon [Dotson] there, do whatever coach needs me to do.”

    Grimes says he’s in the ears of Hurt of Robinson-Earl to get them to come to Kansas in 2019.

    “I know Jeremiah, I think that’s where he’s kind of leaning towards, but I’m not going to speak for him,” Grimes said. “I think it’s a good fit up there.”

    As for Hurt, Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard sat courtside for both Hurt and Earl-Robinson while his head coach continued to spend time coaching both players. Hurt is considering a slew of blue bloods, including Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and Indiana, as well as home-state Minnesota.

    “Matt can really, really shoot and he’s known by some as a great shooter, but he is athletic,” Self said. “He can play on the perimeter. We haven’t even posted him but he’s good on the post. From a skill set he’s very equipped to be able to do a lot of things. I think that Matt will be a terrific guard. He’s close to pure.”

    Photo: USA Basketball

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    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.