When USA basketball trimmed its pool of finalists to 14 on Thursday for this month's U-18 World Championships in Sao Sebastiáo do Paraiso, Brazil, nine high-profile prospects failed to make the cut.
There was twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, two top five prospects in Rivals.com's Class of 2013 rankings. There was guard Jabari Bird and forward Troy Williams, consensus top 20 players in the same class. And there was Providence signee Kris Dunn, Georgia Tech's Robert Carter and Iowa's Adam Woodbury, all top 50 propsects in Rivals.com's 2012 rankings.
The question I had seeing so many top prospects sent home is whether getting cut from the U.S. U-18 team has typically been a harbinger for future struggles at the college level. As a result, I examined the list of players cut during the last three U-18 training camps in 2010, 2008 and 2006 to see if I could spot any trends.
Players cut in 2010: Tracy Abrams, G, Illinois; Keith Appling, G, Michigan State; James Bell, G, Villanova; Michael Gbinije, F, Syracuse; Mikael Hopkins, F, Georgetown; Sheldon McClellan, G, Texas; Desmond Simmons, F, Washington
Comments: It's too soon to make sweeping generalizations because these guys have only played one or two years in college apiece, however, only Keith Appling and Sheldon McClellan made an instant impact. Gbinije transferred to Syracuse this spring after barely playing for Duke as a freshman. Abrams, Simmons and Hopkins logged limited minutes for their respective programs as freshmen. And Villanova is still waiting for James Bell to blossom after he averaged an inefficient seven points per game as a sophomore sixth man last season.
Players cut in 2008: Reeves Nelson, F, UCLA; Lance Stephenson, G, Cincinnati; Kenny Hall, F, Tennessee Ari Stewart, F, USC; Hollis Thompson, F, Georgetown; Wesley Witherspoon, F, Memphis
Comments: The paths these seven top prospects have taken could not be more different. Thompson progressively improved in three seasons at Georgetown, going from role player as a freshman to NBA draft hopeful as a junior. Stepheson entered the draft perhaps a year too soon after a promising freshman season at Cincinnati. Witherspoon peaked as a sophomore in an enigmatic four years at Memphis. Nelson made an impact in two-plus seasons at UCLA before being booted off the team for disciplinary problems. Stewart showed promise at Wake Forest before transferring to USC. And Hall has been a rotation role player all three years at Tennessee.
Players cut in 2006: Drew Gordon, F, New Mexico; J.J. Hickson, F, NC State; Gani Lawal, F, Georgia Tech; Tajuan Porter, G, Oregon; Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas; Joevan Catron, F, Oregon; Blake Griffin, F, Oklahoma; Gary Johnson, G, Texas; Reggie Redding, G, Villanova; Julian Vaughn, F, Georgetown; Chris Wright, G, Georgetown
Comments: Considering the caliber of some of the guys on this list, it might have been fun to watch this group of 11 take on the players who actually made the team. Griffin, Hickson and Lawal were each successful enough as freshmen or sophomores to enter the draft early. Gordon, Aldrich, Wright starred as upperclassmen, leading their programs to the NCAA tournament year after year. The rest of the guys on the list were successful role players who never quite blossomed into all-league-caliber standouts.
The conclusion I draw from looking back at past cuts is that it's silly to lower expectations for any the guys who didn't make this month's U-18 roster.
Perhaps some of those guys may become role players or take a couple years to develop in college, but chances are at least a couple will live up to expectations quickly. If Blake Griffin is a former U-18 cut, then perhaps it's not as big a red flag as it might seem to be.