The last time USA Basketball sent a U17 team to the FIBA World Championship, it worked out pretty well. That squad unsurprisingly won a gold medal behind soon-to-be millionaires Brad Beal, Michael Gilchrist, Andre Drummond and several collegians that have next, James McAdoo, Adonis Thomas and Quinn Cook. Needless to say, the bar has been set for the newly minted U17 team, which was announced on Tuesday afternoon.
After watching three days of try-outs, it’s obvious that this year’s edition is a defensive-oriented, physical squad. While there may not be many prolific scoring threats, the coaching staff which is headed by high school coach Don Showalter of Iowa, have to be pleased with the team work and hardnosed play that was prevalent as 30 players did battle in Colorado Springs to make the squad. There is some familiarity, though, as seven members of the team captured the gold in the FIBA Americas U16 tournament in Cancun last summer.
Even the most casual fan has heard about the headliner of this team, 6-8 forward Jabari Parker of Simeon (Ill.), who recently graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. Parker, and incoming high school senior, will have two prominent sidekicks in juniors-to-be Tyus Jones, a point guard, and center Jahlil Okafor. Both are top-5 ranked prospects in the 2014 recruiting class, nationally. The super skilled Parker will be the subject of defensive pressure, but he has safety valves with a supreme distributor in Jones and a strong and technical post presence in Okafor. It’s safe to say that the performance of the three-headed monster of Parker, Jones and Okafor will be a key in this team’s success.
Other significant contributors figure to be Kansas pledge Conner Frankamp, who was an undersized gunner at 6-1 during trials. Frankamp absolutely scorched nets with his distance shooting. The same can be said for recent Georgetown pledge Stephen Domingo, who as a 6-8 small forward has the ability to stretch defenses by shooting over them. Both were extremely capable during tryouts and figure to open up the inside for Okafor and Parker.
There are two good options at small forward behind Domingo in two 2014 players, Stanley Johnson and Justise Winslow. Johnson played significant minutes in the FIBA Americas tournament last year, while Winslow displayed tremendous bounce at trials, and is the son of former Houston standout Rickie Winslow. Johnson is a strong lockdown defender at 230 pounds, and Winslow has a grown man’s frame that is ripe with explosiveness. Near the hoop, Winslow is almost automatic to crush the rim.
With Jones coming to trials with a minor thumb injury, there are two reserve point guards that were wisely selected to the roster, which could be important should Jones re-aggravate his injury. Joel Berry is a physical, all-around guard, while defensive-minded Kendrick Nunn has the skills to be a reserve at both guard slots.
Up front, skilled big man Johnathan Williams possesses an inside-outside game at 6-9, and is this team’s Lamar Odom. He has some good post moves, but has shooting range that extends to 3-point land. Beyond Williams, there isn’t much mystery about the other two frontcourt players, as 2013 center Beejay Anya and 2014 post Dakari Johnson made the team on their interior defense and rebounding. It’s not likely that Anya or Johnson will be heavy scorers, but expect them to defend the rim and grab caroms.
The roster consists of half 2013 prospects, and half the roster from the 2014 class. The incoming seniors include Anya, Domingo, Frankamp, Nunn, Parker and Williams, while the juniors are Berry, both Johnsons, Jones, Okafor and Winslow. Only Domingo and Frankamp have announced their college intentions.
The squad is set for some exhibition games in the Canary Islands, before making it to Lithuania for the World Championship next week.
Kellon Hassenstab runs Hoopniks.com. Follow him on Twitter @hoopniks.