The U-19 World Cup kicked off over the weekend, and there is a decided college basketball flavor to this year’s event, which is taking place in Crete.
The American team is absolutely loaded with college hoops talent as well as the next wave of basketball stars. Jalen Green, Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley are the biggest names in the event, but there are six college players on Team USA that will play a major role on their respective teams next season — Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State; Kira Lewis, Alabama; Isaac Likekele, Oklahoma State; Reggie Perry, Mississippi State; Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova; and Trevion Williams, Purdue.
It will certainly be worthwhile for fans of those teams to track how those guys play, but they are hardly the teams that have the most interesting storylines to follow.
That would be Gonzaga and Virginia.
The Zags are the program with the most players on or committed to their program playing in the U-19s. The names that you’ll likely know are Filip Petrusev and Joel Ayayi. Petrusev is leading the tournament in scoring through the first two games, averaging 23.0 points and 9.0 boards while shooting 17-for-21 from the floor in just 26.5 minutes. That’s impressive, but it did come against China and Puerto Rico, who are not exactly considered favorites in this event.
Ayayi has struggled to find his footing in Gonzaga’s backcourt — it’s never a good sign when a coach feels the need to bring in a pair of grad transfers to start over a redshirt sophomore — but he’s has a pretty impressive tournament to date. Ayayi had 26 points, seven boards (six offensive) and three steals in the opener against Puerto Rico, following that up with a 10-six-five line against China. Serbia and France face off on Tuesday.
There are two future Zags that are competing in this tournament as well. Puerto Rico’s Julian Strawther, a four-star wing from Nevada that is in the class of 2020, is averaging 15.5 points through two games, including a 22 point outburst against Serbia, while Oumar Ballo has finally arrived in Greece after watching his Mali team land wins over Latvia and Canada, one of the favorites in the event. Ballo is a top 30 recruit.
Virginia may not have more on the line, but there are two ‘Hoos that are having some early success in the event. Australia’s Kody Stattmann, who is theoretically in line for some minutes on Virginia’s perimeter, had 21 points in the opener against Canada, while Francisco Caffaro is averaging 13.0 points and 6.0 boards for Argentina through two games.
Among the other names to track in this event — South Carolina’s A.J. Lawson has been the best player for Team Canada through two games while Pitt commit and four-star recruit Karim Coulibaly has more than made up for Ballo’s absence on Mali.