The FIBA U-19 World Championships concluded Sunday with a dramatic title game rife with clutch shots, jaw-dropping highlights and end-to-end action.
Croatia's Luka Bozic could have given his team the lead when he went to the free throw line trailing by one with four seconds left in regulation, but instead he offered the U.S. new life by sinking only one of two foul shots. The heavily favored Americans responded by seizing control in overtime and escaping with a well-earned 79-71 victory.
Give USA Basketball credit for winning gold at the past two U-19 World Championships because that age level has traditionally been the most difficult for the Americans to dominate. Before its victory in 2013, the U.S. had only held the U-19 world title once since 1995, a product of other nations sending more cohesive teams and top American prospects passing on the chance to play to focus on preparing for college or the NBA draft instead.
Besides delivering heartache for Croatia and a mixture of jubilation and relief for the U.S., this year's U-19 tournament also gave viewers a chance to see some of the world's most coveted prospects play against one another. Here's a look at what we learned with an emphasis on stuff that will impact college basketball in years to come:
1. The top of the Class of 2016 is incredible
The tournament confirmed the already popular opinion that the top players in the Class of 2016 have a chance to be special. Not only did guard Josh Jackson and forwards Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum each make the U.S. roster as high school seniors-to-be, the young American trio was the story of the tournament from start to finish.
Giles dominated in the paint with his length and athleticism, averaging 14 points and 10.6 rebounds despite logging only 21.2 minutes per game. Tatum scored in double figures in all seven games and nearly took the head off a late-arriving Greek defender with a dunk in the semifinals. And Jackson showcased the versatility that is his trademark, sinking 50 percent of his threes, finishing at the rim and spearheading the U.S. full-court press with his defensive prowess.
The success of Giles, Tatum and Jackson against older competition made up for the absence of many of the Class of 2015's top players. Rivals.com's highest-rated 2015 prospect on the team was Arizona-bound Allonzo Trier (No. 12), though Kentucky signee Isaiah Briscoe (No. 10) would have been a key player had he not gotten hurt just before the team left for Greece.
2. Villanova's Jalen Brunson will be an impact freshman
Even though Villanova returns one of the nation's better point guards next season in Ryan Arcidiacono, there is no way the Wildcats will be able to keep incoming freshman Jalen Brunson off the floor. Rivals.com's No. 20 prospect emerged as the victorious U.S. team's most indispensable player by the end of the tournament, earning MVP honors after averaging 14.0 points and 5.6 assists.
Brunson was at his best in the two closest games the U.S. played, a semifinal win over host Greece and the overtime title game victory against Croatia. He consistently displayed poise under pressure, erupting for 30 points against the Greeks and following that up with 14 points and 7 assists in a team-high 40 minutes against Croatia.
How will Villanova integrate Brunson next season? The perimeter-oriented Wildcats will probably go with a two-point guard look as they have at times in the past under Jay Wright. While Arcidiacono's erratic outside shooting is a concern if he plays off ball, multi-point guard lineups have a good recent track record — the past two national champions both used them.
3. Oregon has reason to be excited entering next season
The coach who emerged as the big winner from the U-19 tournament might be Oregon's Dana Altman after two of his players turned in brilliant performances.
Six-foot-7 sophomore-to-be Dillon Brooks emerged as Canada's top player, leading his team to a fifth-place finish by averaging a team-high 18.8 points and 6.2 rebounds. Incoming freshman Tyler Dorsey showcased the scoring prowess that made him one of California's top high school players the past few years, leading Greece to a semifinal appearance by averaging 15.9 points, shooting 55 percent from the floor and burying 52 percent of his threes.
These developments bode well for a talented but undersized Oregon team that will have to absorb the loss of high-scoring lead guard Joseph Young next season. Expect Brooks to make a big leap next season after starting 33 of 36 games as a freshman and expect Dorsey to emerge as one of the Pac-12's highest scoring newcomers from the onset.
4. Other international college prospects also showed promise
Oregon's staff probably wasn't the only one that came away from the U-19 tournament encouraged about next season's roster. Coaches at UNLV, St. John's, Nebraska and Wake Forest also surely were pleased with what their players accomplished.
UNLV-bound forward Justin Jackson and guard Jalen Poyser were two of the Canadian team's best players besides Brooks. The 6-foot-7 Jackson became a fixture in Canada's starting frontcourt by averaging 14.8 points and a team-best 8.0 rebounds, while the aggressive Poyser emerged as a high-scoring reserve by putting up 7.9 points per game despite only averaging 13.9 minutes off the bench.
Six-foot-10 Spanish center Yankuba Sima showed why he could see immediate playing time for St. John's next season by posting 9.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. Nebraska-bound Jack McVeigh had a nice tournament for Australia, averaging the second most points on his team. And Wake Forest rising sophomore Konstantinos Mitoglou was effective at power forward for Greece, turning in double-doubles in victories against Spain and the Dominican Republic.