Of the 15 collegiate players taking part in the Pan-Am Games last week, none made more of a stir than Jamal Murray, an 18-year old Canadian and soon-to-be Kentucky Wildcat.
He had stirring performances in wins over Argentina and the United States, which were impressive enough to convince the basketball watching world that he’s going to be the next great lead guard that John Calipari has recruited.
Almost as impressive was the play of Wichita State guard Ron Baker. Baker struggled early on in the event, but he became a sparkplug for the United States over the weekend, playing the best basketball of any of the seven collegians on the roster. In the overtime loss to Canada, Baker finished with 15 points and three steals. In the bronze medal game against the Dominican Republic, Baker scored 11 points, hit 3-of-5 threes and added five boards, three assists and a pair of steals.
In both games — and in the US win over Venezuela — it was Baker’s play that helped spark comebacks in the second half.
“If he’s not first- or second-team All-American, I don’t know basketball,” ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla told Kansas.com about Baker’s play. “He was impressive. The competition level is higher than the NCAA. It’s a very physical brand of basketball. That Brazil team would have beaten our NCAA champion by 30 points.”
Baylor’s Taurean Waller-Prince also played well throughout the week, reaching double-figures in three of the five games, including a 16-point outburst in the USA’s loss to Brazil. Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine shot the ball well all week long as well, while the rest of the USA collegians saw limited playing time.
Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski never followed up his sterling performance in the opener — 13 boards against Venezuela — while Melo Trimble and Malcolm Brogdon seemed to have a tough time adjusting to the physicality of FIBA. Trimble saw his minutes continually decrease as Bobby Brown, a pro that plays in China, took control of the team. Louisiana’s Shawn Long barely saw any action.