While the field for the 2018 edition of the event has been known for months, it’s strength and depth was on full display Tuesday when the brackets were revealed, pitting NBC Sports Way Too Early top-five teams Duke and Gonzaga on a championship collision course,
Duke will square off against San Diego State in its opening game while Gonzaga takes on Illinois in its opener on the opposite side of the bracket.
Other first round matchups include Auburn (12th in our preseason poll) vs. Xavier (26th) and a game of unknown-but-talented teams in Arizona and Iowa State.
“Each of the eight teams that step on the hardwood at the Lahaina Civic Center is capable of winning the 2018 Maui Jim Maui Invitational,” tournament chairman David Odom said in a statement. “All 12 games in Maui will help shape the course of the 2018-19 college basketball season, and the team that leaves the island with the Wayne Duke Championship Trophy will have incredible momentum to begin the year. The atmosphere is going to be electric, and we’re looking forward to hosting the teams and their fans in November.”
Simply, this tournament is stacked.
Gonzaga and Duke are going to draw the big headlines, but the rest of the tournament is going to be just as intriguing.
Can Auburn back up its SEC title? What does Xavier look like under Travis Steele? Can Brian Dutcher keep momentum with the Aztecs? What kind of team is Sean Miller going to have? Can Iowa State return to relevance after a last-place Big 12 season? Can Brad Underwood rally the Illini?
So while Chaminade isn’t in the field for the first time since the event’s inception in 1984 (the Silver Swords return on a rotating basis in 2019) and there won’t be any chance of a blockbuster upset, Maui is making up for it with an all-time field.
Illinois lands grad transfer big man Adonis De La Rosa
Illinois added some much-needed interior size on Monday afternoon as Kent State center Adonis De La Rosa announced his pledge to the Illini.
The 7-foot, 260-pound De La Rosa started his career with a redshirt year at St. John’s before spending his second year of college at Williston State College. De La Rosa has spent the last two seasons at Kent State, as he averaged a solid 11.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game on 56 percent shooting as a junior.
Since Illinois lost its frontcourt of Leron Black and Michael Finke from last season, the Illini were in desperate need of some experience on the interior as De La Rosa should be a nice option to plug into the middle. In a Big Ten conference that features physically-imposing big men like Michigan State’s Nick Ward and Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson, Illinois needed someone to counter those bigger interior players.
One of the key things to watch for with De La Rosa will be his health.
During March, De La Rosa tore his ACL during the MAC Tournament and had surgery on the injury later that month. While most ACL injuries require 6-to-9 months of recovery time, it varies for everyone. De La Rosa will likely still be recovering and working through the injury through the summer in order to get ready for the season.
The college basketball season has come and gone, meaning that it is officially time for us to start looking forward to next year.
And what better way is there to do that than by publishing a Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25!
DISCLAIMER: We don’t know about all of the NBA Draft decisions yet. Not even close. So if you see a * next to player’s name, it is because we are taking a guess — some more educated than others — on what he is going to be doing this spring.
Drop us a line here or @CBTonNBC if you see any names missing.
Here is the top 25:
1. KANSAS JAYHAWKS
Who’s gone: Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman
Who do they add: Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore, Quentin Grimes, Devon Dotson, David McCormack
Projected starting lineup: Charlie Moore, Marcus Garrett, Quentin Grimes, Dedric Lawson, Udoka Azubuike
Losing Graham is a major, major blow for this program, but they had as much talent sitting out this season as any program in college basketball. Cal transfer Charlie Moore should be able to step in and handle the point guard duties – if that role isn’t taken over by Devon Dotson – while Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson will give Bill Self actual power forwards, something he has been yearning for the last two years. This team is talented, they are old, they are well coached and they have a functional point guard on their roster. There is a lot to like about the Jayhawks heading into next year.
2. GONZAGA BULLDOGS
Who’s gone: Silas Melson, Johnathan Williams III
Who do they add: Brandon Clarke, Joel Ayayi, Filip Petrušev, Greg Foster Jr.
I’m not fully convinced that I love Perkins as a point guard, but with Norvell and Kispert a year older and Hachimura and Tillie on the front line, the Zags have a chance to be really, really good once again. Throw in the transfer addition of Clarke and a couple more talented foreigners — Ayayi and Petrušev — and this is just about what you would expect for Gonzaga.
As always, there is quite a bit of turnover on the Kentucky roster. Six key pieces from last year are gone, while the Wildcats bring in yet another loaded recruiting class. I think the combination of incoming backcourt talent and the remaining front court veterans is going to be a fun combination for Kentucky fans to watch, even if they aren’t going to be able to shoot for another year. The question is going to be whether or not these freshmen can all come together, because there is only one player on the roster that has more than one year of college experience.
4. DUKE BLUE DEVILS
Who’s gone: Grayson Allen, Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr.
Who do they add: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Joey Baker
Projected starting lineup: Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Javin DeLaurier
The Blue Devils are a team that has a lot left to figure out. Bagley, Trent, Duval and Carter are all following Allen out the door, and it appears as if Bolden will be back for another season. I’m still torn on how this Duke team — which will likely end up starting four freshmen — will play. That has not always been the path to success, but the talent here is impossible to ignore. The big question with this group is going to be how well the pieces gel together and whether or not there is enough shooting (and willing defenders) to allow this group to play the way teams like Villanova, Golden State and Boston play. I explain that line of thinking more here.
Who do they add: Jahvon Quinerly, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Joe Cremo
Projected starting lineup: Jahvon Quinerly, Phil Booth, Jermaine Samuels, Eric Paschall, Cole Swider
Villanova did not fair well at the NBA early entry deadline, losing a pair of potential first round picks in DiVincenzo, who was the MOP of the Final Four and Spellman. As we noted here, Spellman is the piece that brings it all together for the Wildcats. I’m still willing to ride with the Wildcats, as I think they are more experienced than they will get credit for and because Jay Wright’s teams always have people ready to step in and contribute immediately. Expect a breakout year from Jermaine Samuels.
6. NEVADA WOLF PACK
Who’s gone: Kendell Stephens, Hallice Cooke
Who do they add: Tre’Shawn Thurman, Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, Kwame Hymes, Vince Lee, Trey Porter, Ehab Amin, Jordan Brown
Projected starting lineup: Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Trey Porter, Jordan Brown
Getting the Martin twins back is massive. Drew’s recovery from a torn achilles is also something that could be a problem. But this was a wildly talented team that came a point away from the Elite Eight despite losing their starting point guard and having their best player deal with a foot injury the last two months of the season. This is the best Nevada team since Kawhi and Jimmer were running roughshod over the league.
7. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
Who’s gone: James Daniel III
Who do they add: No one
Projected starting lineup: Lamonte’ Turner, Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams
Tennessee won the SEC last season and returns literally everyone from that team outside of Daniel, who came off the bench. Williams was the SEC Player of the Year last year, and Rick Barnes has plenty of perimeter talent and switchable pieces at his disposal. There are also some young, talented pieces on this roster — Bone, Bowden, Yves Pons, Kyle Alexander — that still have room to develop. I don’t think it’s crazy to think Tennessee could end up making a run at a No. 1 seed.
8. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS
Who’s gone: Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, Nigel Johnson
Who do they add: Kody Stattmann, Kihei Clark, Francisco Caffaro
Projected starting lineup: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Deandre Hunter, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt
I’ll never doubt Virginia again (unless they are a No. 1 seed … kidding!), even when they are losing their best guard and their best defender. Hunter is ready to step up and be the star for this team, and I think Mamadi Diakite will have a chance to be an elite defensive presence. If there is a real concern here, it’s depth, but I trust Tony Bennett will be able to figure something out. Always trust in Tony.
9. KANSAS STATE WILDCATS
Who’s gone: No one
Who do they add: Shaun Williams
Projected starting lineup: Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown, Carter Diarra, Xavier Sneed, Dean Wade
This will probably be the highest that you see the Wildcats ranked heading into the season, but I really like this group. They have a crop of tough-minded, playmaking guards that can really get out and defend, and their best player might actually be a guy that the public at-large hasn’t really seen play in Wade. Bruce Weber is going to silence the haters!
10. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
Who’s gone: Joel Berry III, Theo Pinson, Jalek Felton
Who do they add: Coby White, Nassir Little, Rechon Black
Projected starting lineup: Coby White, Kenny Williams, Nassir Little, Cam Johnson, Luke Maye
Where you rank UNC in the preseason is going to depend entirely on two things: How good you think their freshmen — White and Little — are going to be, and what kind of development you expect out of Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks. Will there be a returning player in college basketball next season that is better than Luke Maye?
11. VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES
Who’s gone: Devin Wilson, Justin Bibbs
Who do they add: Jon Kabongo, Landers Nolley II, Jarren McAllister
Projected starting lineup: Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Chris Clarke, Kerry Blackshear
The Hokies bring back seven of their top eight players, but the key for this team is going to be the development of their rising sophomore class: Alexander-Walker, Wabissa Bede, P.J. Horne. We know how good Clarke, Robinson and Blackshear are, but if those three take a step forward we could be looking at a top ten team.
Auburn will lose Heron, who might have been their best player last season, but return everyone else from a team that won the SEC. Their guards are just so talented, and that was without Purifoy and Doughty. The health of McLemore, who suffered a dreadful ankle injury in February, will be critical, as well as the development of Chuma Okeke. But we saw what Pearl could do with these pieces last season, and that was with the FBI investigation hanging over their head.
13. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Who’s gone: Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Ben Carter, Gavin Schilling, Tum Tum Nairn
Who do they add: Foster Loyer, Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham Jr., Thomas Kithier
Projected starting lineup: Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Josh Langford, Nick Ward, Xavier Tillman
I can’t help but look at this roster and see all the same issues that they had this past season, only without their two most talented players. Turnovers. Lack of star power. Some defensive issues. Winston has a chance to be a first-team all-Big Ten player, but Langford and Ward are going to have to live up to their potential. It feels like this group has nice pieces, but that those pieces doesn’t necessarily fit together. That said, who is better?
14. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
Who’s gone: Braian Angola, C.J. Walker, Brandon Allen
I really like this group in theory. They have a whole bunch of athletic, switchable wings that can score. Mann, Walker and Kabengele returning would be key, as would finding another point guard on the transfer market to replace C.J. Walker, who left the program. Getting Cofer back for a fifth-year is enormous.
15. MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
Who’s gone: No one
Who do they add: Reggie Perry, Robert Woodard, Jethro Tshisumpa Mbiya, D.J. Stewart
Projected starting lineup: Lamar Peters, Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Aric Holman, Abdul Ado
I am not totally sold on Ben Howland getting this thing going at Mississippi State, but this will be his most talented team. The Weatherspoon brothers are both going to be good players, Peters still intrigues some NBA teams and Holman should fill a role. Reggie Perry should be a nice addition and an impact player as well.
16. OREGON DUCKS
Who’s gone: Elijah Brown, MiKyle McIntosh, Troy Brown
Who do they add: Bol Bol, Louis King, Miles Norris, Will Richardson
Projected starting lineup: Payton Pritchard, Louis King, Paul White, Kenny Wooten, Bol Bol
For my money, Oregon’s season hung on whether or not Brown returned to school, and Ihe’s gone. Bol and King are both potential one-and-done players, and Wooten is an elite defensive prospect, but I’m in a wait and see mode with them. Personally, I’m not on the Bol Bol bandwagon, but I understand why he is, in theory, a high-level prospect.
17. UCLA BRUINS
Who’s gone: Aaron Holiday, Thomas Welsh, G.G. Goloman
Who do they add: Tyger Campbell, Shareef O’Neal, Moses Brown, Kenny Nwuba, David Singleton III, Jules Bernard, Cody Riley, Jalen Hill
Projected starting lineup: Jaylen Hands, Prince Ali, Kris Wilkes, Cody Riley, Moses Brown
This is a make or break year for Steve Alford. Odds seem pretty good that he’ll have every underclassmen except Aaron Holiday back, meaning that back-to-back top five-ish recruiting classes will be on campus. It’s time for the Bruins to put up or shut up, and I think they’ll be right there as a favorite to win the Pac-12.
18. TCU HORNED FROGS
Who’s gone: Kenrich Williams, Vlad Brodziansky, Ahmed Hamdy
Who do they add: Kendric Davis, Kaden Archie, Angus McWilliam, Yuat Alok, Russel Barlow Jr.
Projected starting lineup: Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher, Desmond Bane, Kouat Noi, Kevin Samuel
Losing Williams and Brodziansky is going to be a blow, but there are still plenty of pieces. Bane and Noi should be in line for breakout seasons, and Jamie Dixon going small-ball with a two-point guard look should be fun to watch.
19. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
Who’s gone: Anas Mahmoud, Quentin Snider, Ray Spalding, Deng Adel
Who do they add: Chris Mack, Steve Enoch, Christian Cunningham
Projected starting lineup: Darius Perry, Dwayne Sutton, V.J. King, Steve Enoch, Malik Williams
How good of a coach do you think that Mack is? Because that is what this really comes down to. Even though the Cardinals lose Adel along with Spalding to the draft, there is enough talent on this roster to make an NCAA tournament — I think the evidence of that is that if the Cardinals hadn’t lost a fluke game to Virginia they would have been in the tournament last season. And all due respect to David Padgett, Mack is a better coach than he is right now.
West Virginia has survived losing program guys in past seasons, but Carter and Miles were responsible for turning West Virginia into Press Virginia. Calling them program guys is a disservice. So we’ll see how this plays out. At this point, I’m trusting that Bob Huggins will figure out a way to make it work.
21. N.C. STATE WOLFPACK
Who’s gone: Omer Yurtseven, Al Freeman, Abdul-Malik Abu, Lennard Freeman, Sam Hunt
Who do they add: C.J. Bryce, Devon Daniels, Blake Harris, Saddiq Bey, Jericole Hellems, Derek Funderburk, Ian Steere, Immanuel Bates
Kevin Keatts is going to miss Yurtseven, because he doesn’t have any size on his roster anymore. He does, however, have half-a-million guards on his roster, and all of them can play. That’s enough for me to bet on Keatts getting it done.
22. LSU Tigers
Who’s gone: Duop Reath, Randy Onwuasor, Aaron Epps, Jeremy Combs, Mayan Kiir, Galen Alexander
Who do they add: Naz Reid, Emmitt Williams, Javonte Smart, Darius Days, Kavell Bigby-Williams
LSU is really young. They are also really talented. Waters is so entertaining, and the incoming trio of Smart, Reid and Williams is very good. Effort will be a key, as will their ability to play together, but they have a chance to be really good.
23. CLEMSON TIGERS
Who’s gone: Gabe DeVoe, Donte Grantham, Mark Donnal
Who do they add: John Newman III, Hunter Tyson, Trey Jamison, Javan White
Projected starting lineup: Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, AJ Oliver, Aamir Simms, Elijah Thomas
With Mitchell and Reed back in the fold, plus Elijah Thomas in the paint, this has the makings of another team that will push for a top five seed.
Who do they add: Ignas Brazdeikis, David DeJulius, Brandon Johns, Adrian Nunez, Colin Castleton
Projected starting lineup: Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers, Jon Teske
Losing Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman, the program’s two best offensive weapons, are major blows for a team that struggled to score a season ago. Matthews’ decision to return is key and they will really be able to guard again, but one of their three big wings is going to need to take a major step forward for them offensively.
25. SYRACUSE ORANGE
Who’s gone: Matthew Moyer
Who do they add: Buddy Boeheim, Jalen Carey, Robert Braswell, Eli Hughes
Projected starting lineup: Tyus Battle, Franklin Howard, Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj, Paschal Chukwu
The Orange have no depth and very little perimeter shooting this side of Buddy Boeheim, but with Tyus Battle back in the fold, I think this Orange team will be able to scrape together enough ugly, grind-it-out wins to be in and around the top 25 all season.
Twenty years after it was first built, Illinois’ practice facility is getting a $30 million update.
The Illini are more than doubling the square footage, adding court space and enhancing sports medicine facilities, the strength and conditioning area, study spaces and locker rooms at the Richard T. Ubben Basketball Practice Facility, the school announced Monday.
“We’re excited about the expansion plans for the Ubben practice facility,” coach Brad Underwood said in a statement. “It will enable us to be self-contained in terms of everything we do from enhanced athletic training, rehab and recovery areas, to rooms for academic services, an expanded strength and conditioning area, dining space, expanded court space, and the most up-to-date technological offerings throughout the building.
“This renovation will offer a comprehensive, functional space that is the players’ home-away-from-home and has them excited every time they walk in the doors. Bottom line, it will be a facility that allows our players to achieve their best as students and athletes.”
Illinois is adding 45,000 square feet to the facility, which will allow for two new half-courts for the men’s and women’s programs as well as a two-story weight room and a tripling in the size of the locker rooms.
“There is a direct correlation between the construction of the Ubben Complex and the unparalleled success our program enjoyed over the next 10 years that followed,” Illinois director of athletics Josh Whitman said in a statement. “In the 20 years since Ubben opened, the concept has been copied by programs from coast-to-coast. Now, it is imperative for us to ensure that this outstanding facility remains as cutting-edge today as it was when it opened. We look forward to using this facility to help catapult the Fighting Illini programs back to an elite level.”
While the practice facilities arms race seems to have quieted in recent years, there’s still an incredible desire by major programs to stay at the front edge. Whether it’s the dorms created at Kansas and Kentucky specifically for players (and “regular” students, too) or a massive investment like the kind Illinois is making, it’s still clear that programs are willing to spend big to stay at the top – or get back there in Illinois’ case.
With limited size on roster Brad Underwood embracing small ball at Illinois
Illinois doesn’t have any returning size to speak of for next season as head coach Brad Underwood appears to be embracing small ball.
In a radio interview Friday with Lon Tay and Derek Piper on ESPN’s 93.5, Underwood addressed an Illini roster that features no players taller than 6-foot-6 returning to the roster from last season. While Illinois has a six-man recruiting class featuring 6-foot-11 Samba Kane and 6-foot-9 Giorgi Bezhanishvili, both of those big men are considered three-star prospects who are more developmental pieces in the class.
It means that Underwood is embracing three- and four-guard lineup possibilities while also potentially playing a smaller player at the five. With Trent Frazier coming back, along with talented freshman guards like Ayo Dosunmu and Andres Feliz, expect to see a lot of small-ball lineups for Illinois this season.
“I think everybody gets excited about bigs. Draymond Green is Golden State’s center. Draymond is 6’6”, maybe 6’7”. The most important thing to us in our system is guard play. Because it’s about breaking the defense down, it’s about playing with some tempo and pace. All of (our) perimeter players are different,” Underwood said in the interview. “Villanova played a lot of the time in the Final Four with three point guards on the court. So you could see Trent, Ayo and Andres Feliz on the court together. And I love the versatility because it’s creativity, it’s good basketball players and they can all do things that enable you to win. Pass, guard, shoot it, get it into the paint.”
Preach, Brad Underwood, Preach.
Illinois will undoubtedly have a disadvantage against many Big Ten opponents when it comes to interior defense and rebounding. But rather than playing big guys who might not be ready to help at all, Underwood seems content on putting his five best players on the floor — regardless of size or “positional fit.”
That approach has worked well for Golden State. As Underwood noted, it worked pretty well for Villanova last season.
This isn’t to say that Illinois should be viewed as some sort of Big Ten contender because they’re following in the mold of some recent champions. Small-ball isn’t some cure-all magic formula. The Illinois roster is very young and inexperienced and filled with question marks at multiple spots. But it means Illinois should at least be fun to watch next season as they could use some creative lineups to attack the Big Ten’s best.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The USA Basketball U18 team begins play this week as FIBA Americas tips off in Canada.
The heavy favorites to capture a gold medal in the age group, the Americans started training camp in Colorado Springs last week as I watched some of the early sessions of practice to get a feel for how the group might look in the event.
Here’s some takeaways, and storylines, to follow over the next week at FIBA Americas as the Bill Self-coached outfit features a combination of incoming college freshmen and rising high school seniors.
1. Who becomes the team’s leader and go-to player?
One of the fascinating things to watch about this U18 tryout was the lack of a clear go-to player. Two years ago for the U18 team, this was no such issue. That group featured Michael Porter Jr., Markelle Fultz and Trae Young (to name a few off of a loaded team).
But this current U18 group is a byproduct of two down years in a row when it comes to national recruiting classes. The Class of 2018 and 2019 are two of the worst back-to-back years we’ve seen in quite some time when it comes to actual star power.
So finding a leader and a go-to guy is going to be one of this team’s main goals in the early going. It might not come down to one player. The perimeter trio of Cole Anthony, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White all had strong stretches playing together during tryouts and all three showed leadership capabilities and strong abilities to score.
Kentucky commit Tyrese Maxey also falls into this category. He’s a charismatic lead guard who can really score, which means he might also take on the role of a go-to player.
It’s not as if the USA team has to have one go-to guy like this to win the gold medal. But it would certainly help in close-game situations if they knew they could turn to one particular player (or group of players) that can produce.
2. The team’s perimeter shooting — particularly Ayo Dosunmu and Quentin Grimes
Perimeter shooting will also be a significant development with this team, most notably with a couple of college-bound guards who have been inconsistent from the three-point line in the past. Also, keep in mind that FIBA rules are in play here, which means a different ball and an expanded three-point line from the college level — yet another reason why college hoops needs to expand the three-point line closer further from the basketball.
One of the intriguing storylines will involve Illinois commit Ayo Dosunmu and his re-worked perimeter jumper. A known scorer who was always streaky with his jumper in the past, Dosunmu has completely overhauled his shot since the end of March and the high school season. Now sporting a full follow through and a higher release, Dosunmu’s jumper looked way better than before as it’s a skill that has given him added confidence as a scorer. With Illinois counting on its highest-rated recruit so much for the upcoming 2018-19 season, if Dosunmu has a decent perimeter jumper, it could make him one the Big Ten’s most dangerous threats.
Future Kansas Jayhawk Quentin Grimes is another perimeter player to watch when it comes to shooting. The U18 team is a fascinating parallel to how Grimes could be used next season as Bill Self will be coaching both teams. Grimes is probably best suited to have the ball in his hands as an attacking guard, but with other steady floor generals like Anthony and Maxey on the U18 team, he could be relegated to playing mostly off the ball. Since Kansas has Charlie Moore and Devon Dotson on the smaller side of Grimes in next year’s guard rotation, Grimes might also be forced more off the ball at Kansas next season. So how will Grimes look as a catch-and-shoot option? Like Dosunmu, Grimes has been streaky with his jumper in the past.
The USA doesn’t need Dosunmu and Grimes to make perimeter jumpers in order to win. Anthony, Maxey and fellow Class of 2019 guard Mark “Rocket” Watts Jr. were three of the most prolific perimeter shooters in the Nike EYBL this spring. But Dosunmu and Grimes knocking down open shots could go a long way towards the team’s ultimate success.
3. The role of Coby White
One of the better and more consistent players during training camp was North Carolina commit and guard Coby White. An advanced scorer from multiple levels, White had it going with the perimeter jumper at times during camp as he nailed catch-and-shoot jumpers and jumpers off the bounce.
As noted earlier, there are plenty of really talented guards already playing with the U18 team, so White likely doesn’t need to play on the ball and be a facilitator. But that’s the thing North Carolina fans should probably be watching for during FIBA Americas. Somebody has to replace Joel Berry’s massive presence in the Tar Heel backcourt for next season. White looks like a prime candidate to potentially do so.
The problem lies in White’s DNA as a natural scorer. Since he’s never asked to be a true facilitator, White is learning the nuances of the point guard spot while still trying to keep his offensive aggression as a shooter.
There were some promising signs of lead guard development from White at USA. White showed a strong ability to read ball screens, changing paces and navigating into the paint whenever he felt like it. Also making basic reads and some solid one-handed passes to corner shooters, White appears to be improving at the basic functions of being a facilitator.
Finding that balance between running a team and hunting his own offense will be something to track with the U18 team because White will likely have to do the same at North Carolina. The Tar Heels will have a strong frontcourt featuring Luke Maye and fellow five-star freshman Nassir Little. Upperclass perimeter options like Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams are back as well. White will be asked to score next season, but more importantly, he’ll also need to set the table for those others to get involved as well.
4. Which big men will step up and see heavy minutes?
It should come as no surprise that this USA U18 team is a guard-driven outfit. But that doesn’t mean the big men should be ignored in this equation. While small-ball and floor-spacing lineups are the popular thing coming into American basketball at all levels, there is still a need for true big men and a rotation of frontcourt players.
Among the group’s frontcourt players, Texas commit Kamaka Hepa could be perhaps the team’s best interior defender for this event because of his advanced feel, communication skills and versatility. Others in the group could eventually be better than Hepa, but his enthusiasm for smothering ball screens and recovering back to the post was unmatched at the camp.
The Class of 2019 duo of Armando Bacot and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was also really good during camp as the duo compliments each other pretty well. Bacot is more of an old-school, ground-game big man who isn’t an elite athlete, but he has great hands and feel as he’s a natural double-double threat at the college level. Although a tad undersized as a combo forward, the 6-foot-8 Robinson-Earl makes up for it with great first and secondary leaping ability that enables him to be a demon on the glass.
Tracye Jackson-Davis was also active on the glass and defending on the interior as he’s continuing to blossom this spring. And Matthew Hurt provides a skill element the frontcourt is lacking with his floor-spacing and passing abilities.
Again, this team’s success will be driven by guard play, as Self will likely incorporate two, three or even four-guard lineups with the amount of perimeter talent he has at his disposal. But the big men will need to play a part in capturing a gold medal as well. Seeing how Self uses his lineups will be a huge part in determining which big men will shine.