The makeup of John Calipari’s USA Basketball U-19 World Championship team could benefit Kentucky the next couple years.
Two members of next year’s Kentucky team survived Thursday’s final cut, as did four elite class of 2018 prospects whom the Wildcats are recruiting.
Although Kentucky signee Kevin Knox did not make the roster after tweaking a hamstring on Tuesday, fellow future Wildcats Hamidou Diallo and P.J. Washington will both benefit from getting acclimated to Calipari’s coaching style next month in Egypt. Calipari will also have a chance to spend plenty of time forming a bond with four promising high school seniors, point guard Immanuel Quickley, shooting guard Romeo Langford and forwards Cameron Reddish and Louis King.
Twenty-seven players received invitations to try out for the U.S. U-19 team this week, mostly rising college sophomores and incoming college freshmen along with a few talented high school seniors. A panel of coaches and USA Basketball officials determined the 18 players that survived the initial round of cuts earlier this week as well as the 12 who learned on Thursday they had made the team.
Among the other players who made the final cut are Auburn center Austin Wiley, UNLV center Brandon McCoy and Purdue point guard Carsen Edwards. Georgia Tech shooting guard Josh Okogie, Oregon point guard Payton Pritchard and Maryland swingman Kevin Huerter will also join them in Egypt.
One surprise exclusion was consensus top 10 2018 prospect Bol Bol, a 7-foot-3 center with a Kentucky scholarship offer. Bol, the son of former NBA center Manute Bol, boasts elite shot blocking ability and the range to knock down 3-pointers.
The U-19 World Championships is traditionally the tournament at which the U.S. is most vulnerable because other other countries’ teams have been training together for far more time. While the U.S. has won the past two U-19 World Championships in 2015 and 2013, it only took gold in one of the previous six.
In recent years, USA Basketball has encountered problems attracting top players at the U-19 level. College coaches have blocked their top incoming freshmen from participating because of the desire to get them acclimated to their new teammates and to campus life during the summer.
Calipari was an attractive choice as coach for USA Basketball because his involvement guaranteed access to his 2017 signees. It was mutually beneficial for Calipari since it provided unique access to five-star players in the 2018 class and gave him a chance to bolster his candidacy to someday succeed Gregg Popovich as head coach of the senior national team.
At the last U-19 World Championships in 2015, Arizona’s Sean Miller coached the U.S. squad, which included then-high school standouts Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson and Terrance Ferguson. Arizona was a finalist in Jackson’s recruitment before he chose Kansas last year and landed Ferguson before the sharpshooter encountered eligibility issues and opted to play professionally overseas instead.
Of course, coaching the U-19 team created some recruiting headaches for Miller too. Arizona-bound forward T.J. Leaf backed out of his commitment and signed with UCLA instead not long after Miller cut him from the U-19 roster.
This isn’t the first time Calipari has found a recruiting edge while coaching internationally. Before Olympic qualifying began in 2012, Calipari named heralded 16-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns to the Dominican Senior National Team. Towns committed to Kentucky later that year and went on to become the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft.
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