Five observations from the USA Basketball U17/U18 tryouts

Bart Young/USA Basketball
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COLORADO SPRINGS — USA Basketball held tryouts for its U17 and U18 teams during the week as many of the top high school prospects and incoming college freshmen in the country were competing for spots in prestigious international tournaments.

The U17 group will compete in the FIBA U17 World Championships in Spain that begins on June 23rd while the U18 group will compete in FIBA Americas in Chile in late July. Both camps were a great spotlight on where a lot of players stand entering their freshman year of college or the later years of their high school career.

Here’s a look at some of the standouts and thoughts on the week’s action in Colorado Springs.

1. Markelle Fultz continues to get better 

The meteoric rise of Washington incoming freshman guard Markelle Fultz continued during the U18 tryouts this week as Fultz looked like the best player on the floor among a loaded group of players. Over the last six months, Fultz has continued to get better each time out as he’s improved from when he was a standout player at the Nike Hoop Summit in April.

Handling the ball on a string and scoring from all over the floor, Fultz has such a natural ease about him when he plays that the ridiculous combination moves that he pulls off looks easy. With the way Fultz has been playing over the last few months, he’s now put himself firmly in the conversation as potentially the best freshman in college basketball next season. I firmly believe Fultz is a preseason All-American, but my CBT colleagues didn’t believe Washington would be good enough for Fultz to be included on our list.

I don’t think it matters who is around Fultz. With his ability to score at all levels (including deep jumpers) and create for others, Fultz is talented enough that Washington could surprise some people this season. Don’t be surprised if Fultz generates buzz for the No. 1 draft pick in the 2017 NBA Draft next season.

2. The Texas big man duo of Jarrett Allen and James Banks should be ready to go

One of the most intriguing parts of the U18 tryouts was future Texas freshmen big men Jarrett Allen and James Banks getting to play under future head coach Shaka Smart. While Allen came in with the bigger reputation thanks to being named in multiple All-American games this spring, the 6-foot-11 Banks impressed with his defense around the basket.

We know that Texas is going to have plenty of perimeter talent with Kerwin Roach, Eric Davis and Tevin Mack all returning while McDonald’s All-American Andrew Jones is also entering the program next season. But the key to this team making a potential run in March is how Allen is able to handle big minutes and if Banks can also be a contributor.

Based on his play this spring, Allen is a safe bet to be at least a solid Big 12 big man this season, if not one of the better big men in the league. With his natural instincts on both ends of the floor, along with an ever-increasing skill level, Allen should be able to score, rebound and defend the rim right away. If Banks can also help protect the rim and rebound, Texas likely doesn’t need him to be a big scorer this season.

Texas fans should be excited to see this duo play this season and Allen might only be around for a season before the NBA comes calling.

3. Kevin Huerter will be a solid rotation piece for Maryland

People keep talking about what Maryland lost from last season — and justifiably so. Losing Robert Carter, Diamond Stone, Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman would be tough for any team to handle.

But the Terps should be pleased that they’re adding a versatile guard in Kevin Huerter in their latest recruiting class.

The 6-foot-5 Huerter has a beautiful-looking jumper to go along with some solid ability to handle the ball as a secondary handler. Also a good passer, Huerter is the type of well-rounded wing guard who should help take pressure off of Melo Trimble next season as he competes for minutes with Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley on the wing. Obviously, Maryland isn’t viewed as a national title contender entering this season with those aforementioned losses, but they’re still in good position that have a competitive season in the Big Ten.

4. Hamidou Diallo keeps rising in the Class of 2017

After seeing five-star shooting guard Hamidou Diallo play in consecutive weekends, it’s becoming more and more clear that he’s an elite prospect with the kind of ridiculous athleticism that any level of basketball would covet.

The 6-foot-5 native of New York is the type of rare leaper who can outjump athletic bigs and wings for offensive putbacks and you better be on poster watch if you’re a big man who is trying to meet Diallo at the rim.

Defensively, Diallo was scary in the press because he can cover so much ground laterally while his instincts in passing lanes continue to improve. Diallo is just a consistent jump shot away from being a force on the offensive end, but that has also steadily gotten better over the course of the last few months.

5. Auburn got a tremendous centerpiece in Class of 2017 big man Austin Wiley

Over the last two years, five-star Class of 2017 big man Austin Wiley has battled a couple of different injuries that have prevented him from being at many spring and summer events.

After recently returning from an ankle injury in May, Wiley was one of the best players on the floor for the U17 World Championship team as he looked like he was in shape and ready to dominate. The future Tiger scored with hooks around the rim, finished alley-oops and also knocked down some pick-and-pop jumpers.

Wiley competed hard against elite-level big men and wasn’t afraid to mix it up for rebounds or blocks. With head coach Bruce Pearl bringing in some talented pieces the last few seasons — including guard Mustapha Heron in the Class of 2016 — Wiley could very well be the quality big man that puts Auburn into the next level they’ve been looking for.

Hopefully, the injury bug is done biting Wiley and he’s able to continue to develop before he gets to Auburn.