Entering Sunday’s FIBA Americas U16 gold medal match with Canada the United States had never lost a game in the brief history of the event, going 19-0 with the majority of those wins being by comfortable margins. But they were definitely challenged by a Canadian squad led by the tournament’s top rebounder in 2018 forward Simi Shittu, as Canada led 19-3 at the end of the first quarter with the Americans shooting 1-for-17 from the field.
The United States trailed by as much as 20 (23-3) before turning things around, with 2017 prospects Wendell Carter Jr., Gary Trent Jr. and Jarred Vanderbilt leading the way. They eventually took their first lead of the game in the third quarter, grabbing control of the game in the final six minutes and winning by the final score of 77-60.
However the final margin, coming as a result of the United States closing the game on a 28-5 run, is not a true indicator of how tough the game was.
Shittu led Canada with 18 points and 14 rebounds, with Rowan Barrett Jr. adding 13, and early on they managed to limit the easy looks the United States was able to find against lesser competition. But Vanderbilt (19 points, ten rebounds) served as the catalyst in the second quarter, with Trent Jr. (19 points, six rebounds) and Carter stepping forward in the second stanza.
Both teams struggled with turnovers, combining for 49, but the United States was able to get better looks in the second half and ultimately finished with 46 points in the paint to Canada’s 30.
Las Vegas Thursday Recap: Skal Labissiere, Stephen Zimmerman perform well
One of the positives of grassroots basketball is the fact that the nation’s top talents tend to have more opportunities to hone their craft against other skilled players, and for the top big men that also means the chance to play against similarly-sized players. While there are some high school and prep leagues that don’t lack for size, more times than not during the high school season a player can find himself double and triple-teamed by smaller teams due to their inability to put a bigger defender on that elite talent.
That’s something 2015 center Skal Labissiere ran into on multiple occasions this past season, with Labissiere noting that the summer provides a greater challenge – and more room in which to operate.
“I like playing during the summer more, because I get more one-on-one matchups,” Labissiere told NBCSports.com, and he also noted that the players he faces during the summer provide a greater challenge. “Because in the league we play in [during the school year] I get double and triple-teamed a lot.”
Labissiere matched up with another top 2015 big man on Thursday in 7-footer Stephen Zimmerman, and both displayed some of the skills that have left coaches across the country impressed. Labissiere was productive in the post offensively, and defensively he displayed the ability to serve as a help-side defender at the rim. Zimmerman displayed greater aggression in the post, at one point using two powerful dribbles to get through Labissiere to the basket, while also displaying the passing ability and shooting range that makes him arguably the most well-rounded big man in the class.
And just as importantly, the moments in which he spent too much time on the perimeter were non-existent. However this is something Zimmerman stated that he continues to work at, and with teammate Ivan Rabb participating in USA Basketball’s U-17 camp this weekend the Las Vegas native has more room to operate on the low block.
“I try to do everything I can on the court to help my team,” Zimmerman told NBC Sports. “I think I need to work on being more aggressive, but I feel like it will come.
“Not being so passive,” Zimmerman added. “I’ll catch the ball at the high post sometimes and instead of attacking I’ll look for the pass. That’s not what my team needs. But I think I’ll get better at it [in time].”
Isaiah Briscoe outplays Jalen Brunson in NJ Playaz win: One of the four games at The 8, which was held at Impact Basketball Academy, matched up the Mac Irvin Fire and Playaz Basketball Club out of New Jersey. And while this particular event draws attention from fans due to the presence of coaches who are also (for the most part) current NBA players, there are also quality individual matchups to consider.
This one featured point guards Jalen Brunson (Fire) and Isaiah Briscoe (Playaz), with Briscoe getting the better of Brunson as he led his team to the win. Briscoe’s an incredibly tough customer who has no issue whatsoever with contact, and he was a very difficult matchup in ball screen situations due to his ability to make reads without being hurried. Brunson was quiet for much of the game, but that won’t do anything to diminish his status as one of the best point guards in the 2015 class.
Elijah Cain performs well for NJ Playaz: Briscoe wasn’t the only solid performer for the Playaz in that win, with 2015 wing Elijah Cain also displaying the ability to both attack the basket off the dribble and knock down perimeter shots. Cain’s an interesting case in that he made the decision prior to the start of last season to reclassify back into the 2015 class. And according to Cain, basketball wasn’t the primary reason for his decision to make that move.
“Most people don’t know this, but the decision was made more for my age and maturity and not for basketball,” Cain told NBCSports.com. “I just wanted to mature because I’m young for my class.”
Among the schools Cain mentioned as being most active in his recruitment, Memphis and Delaware were among the programs who were in touch before his solid performance at the Peach Jam with Virginia Tech, Charlotte, USC and Xavier reaching out afterward.
Alterique Gilbert has the makings of a very good point guard: The 8 also provided the opportunity to watch 2016 point guard Alterique Gilbert ply his trade for CP3, with the Los Angeles Clippers floor general serving as one of the coaches. Gilbert can be a handful for the opposition in pick and roll situations, something that played itself out on multiple occasions Thursday. But there are still improvements to be made, especially when it comes to the reads Gilbert makes in those situations. And it helps to have a resource like Paul, who isn’t on the bench solely to make a “celebrity appearance.”
“He’s helped us out throughout July,” Gilbert told NBCSports.com. “He’s very supportive of us and I respect that. A lot of NBA players will make a team but they aren’t really involved with their program, so I like that he’s really hands-on.”
And when it comes to the improvements he’s looking to make in his game, Gilbert isn’t focusing solely on his offensive skill set. There’s also the understanding of the need to improve defensively and as a leader, with Gilbert citing the importance of communication on the defensive end of the floor as something he’s become more mindful of. Gilbert stated that he’s recently received offers by Texas A&M, Memphis, Miami, Maryland and Georgia.
Jarred Vanderbilt another intriguing 2017 prospect: Wednesday provided the opportunity to watch two of the best prospects in the 2017 class in Troy Brown and DeAndre Ayton, and on Thursday 6-foot-8 forward Jarred Vanderbilt took the court for the Houston Hoops. Vanderbilt was solid if not spectacular in his team’s close win over Seattle Rotary Select, using his slender frame to get to the basket on multiple occasions. Given his class there’s plenty of time for him to develop physically in order to better deal with contact when in traffic, and he’s only going to receive more attention from programs as he does.