USA Basketball announces 16 finalists for Under-19 team


Over the last few days USA Basketball has been holding tryouts for its Under-19 national team, which will compete in the FIBA U-19 World Championships in Prague, Czech Republic beginning on June 24.

USA Basketball announced its initial list of 16 players after four training sessions on Sunday, with the team needing to be cut down to 12 players on Wednesday. Among the 16 to make the initial cut are two members of the 2014 graduating class, center Jahlil Okafor (Whitney Young HS, Chicago) and forward Justise Winslow (St. Johns HS, Houston).

“I think the biggest thing is just our unity, us being connected, understanding what the goal is and them playing together, playing unselfishly,” U-19 team head coach Billy Donovan said in the release.

“We have a lot of versatile players; guys that can move to different positions; I think we have a lot of size and strength on this team; I think we have guards that can defend and have good quickness and speed.”

Okafor and Winslow are two of three 17-year olds among the 16 players still alive, with Arizona incoming freshman Aaron Gordon being the other. The 16 players still in contention for the 12 U-19 World Championships roster spots are:

G Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova)
F Damyean Dotson (Oregon)
G Michael Frazier (Florida)
G Marcus Georges-Hunt (Georgia Tech)
F Aaron Gordon (Arizona; incoming freshman)
F Jerami Grant (Syracuse)
F/C Montrezl Harrell (Louisville)
C Jahlil Okafor (Whitney Young HS, Chicago)
G Elfrid Payton (UL-Lafayette)
G James Robinson (Pittsburgh)
G Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State)
F Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee)
G Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke)
F/C Mike Tobey (Virginia)
G Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington; incoming freshman)
F Justise Winslow (St. Johns HS, Houston)

The name that may stick out to some is that of 6-3 guard Elfrid Payton, but as Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News noted it was Payton’s versatility on the defensive end that helped him land a spot on the 16-player list.

The surprise of the trials was Louisiana-Lafayette junior Elfrid Payton, a 6-3 combo guard whose defense sizzled and who proved to be nearly impossible for perimeter defenders to keep out of the lane. He averaged 15.9 points and 5.5 assists for the Ragin’ Cajuns last season. He has an excellent chance of making the team because of his ability to defend and to play multiple positions.

Of the 16 players remaining ten have prior experience with USA Basketball and six (Grant, Harrell, Robinson, Smart, Stokes and Sulaimon) were members of the U-18 team that clinched a spot in the U-19 championships last summer.

The US team was drawn into Group D for the Worlds, and that group includes China, Ivory Cost and Russia.

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.