- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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1. The commitment to USA basketball at the junior national team level is at an unprecedented level. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who chairs the junior national team committee, said Wednesday that the consistency of coaches and players was never done in the program in the past like its counterparts in other countries. Florida’s Billy Donovan will coach the U-19 team in the Czech Republic after winning gold in Brazil with the U-18 team last summer. VCU’s Shaka Smart returns as his assistant. (UVa’s Tony Bennett’s replaces Gonzaga’s Mark Few on the staff.) Getting Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, who could have been the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, to return to the team was a coup. “I love this team,’’ said Boeheim, who will help pick the dozen players among the 24 trying out June 14-19 in Colorado Springs. “To get Smart to come back was huge. The guys we got, I’m just thrilled.’’ Boeheim specifically mentioned rising senior Jahlil Okafor of Whitney Young High in Chicago as an example, too. “I’m very enthused Billy is coaching again. If we can get active college coaches, guys like that, him, Shaka Smart, Tony Bennett, you can’t get better coaches than those guys. I’m thrilled with the group of players.’’ Boeheim said the commitment from USA Basketball CEO Jerry Colangelo has shown up at all levels. Boeheim said Smart wanted to work at being a point guard and that’s one of the main reasons he is returning. “Billy will give him an opportunity to do that,’’ said Boeheim. “This is a tremendous win for us.’’ Boeheim said another coup occurred for the World University Games team that will play in Russia in July when Creighton’s Doug McDermott, the preseason favorite for player of the year, committed to playing for coach Bob McKillop of Davidson (he’ll be assisted by Michigan’s John Beilein and South Carolina’s Frank Martin). “Jerry put us in a great position for the continuity of leadership and to build the program,’’ said Boeheim. “It’s been fun to be one-tenth of 1 percent part of it. We’re going to have a lot of good players.’’
2. Among the names not listed on the 24-player U-19 tryout roster (the World University Games roster will be released soon but McDermott is the top name) are incoming freshmen like Duke’s Jabari Parker or Kentucky’s Julius Randle and/or Andrew or Aaron Harrison. They were not snubbed. Boeheim said they couldn’t come due to summer school commitments. “It happens,’’ said Boeheim. Duke associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski said incoming freshman have wanted to use that first summer on campus since the rule was instituted two years ago to get adjusted. “The hardest time for these kids is when they are making that next step,’’ said Wojciechowski. “They want to hit the ground running. It’s tough. Those are tough positions for those kids to be in. They have an opportunity to go to school early now, get accustomed to the class work and get adjusted.’’ The only incoming freshmen who will be at tryouts are UCLA-bound Bryce Alford (yes, son of new coach Steve), Arizona-bound Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Washington-bound Nigel Williams-Goss.
3. The tryout and competition, if they make it, could be a precursor to impactful seasons for a few players. Texas is expecting Javan Felix to be a leader and focal point next season. Louisville will lean even more on energy bench player Montrezl Harrell. Syracuse will look to Jerami Grant to score more often. Oregon will need leadership out of Damyean Dotson. Florida must get more consistency out of Michael Frazier. Providence’s Kris Dunn needs to be one of the top guards in the new Big East. Villanova will be defined by guard Ryan Arcidiacono. Tennessee has one of the best big men in Jarnell Stokes. Memphis is banking on Shaq Goodwin to be a star. If Georgia Tech is to make a move in the 15-team ACC, then Robert Carter and Marcus Georges-Hunt will be vital. Virginia chances of being an ACC contender improve if Mike Tobey is productive. Pitt’s James Robinson and Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon are underrated ACC players while Wake’s chances of moving up could depend on contributions from players like Devin Thomas. Former NC State guard and now UConn redshirt Rodney Purvis is looking for an important year off from games. How many of these returning players make the squad is unknown. But playing on this team and in the Czech Republic will only be a benefit.