With a 99-84 victory over Canada on Saturday evening in Valdivia, Chile, the US men’s national team led by Texas Longhorns head coach Shaka Smart and featuring Longhorns bigs Jarrett Allen and James Banks won the country’s eighth gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 Championships.
"It was a great experience," Smart. "We had a terrific group of guys to be around. They were a lot of fun. It's hard because you can only put five guys on the floor at one time, and we had 12 really talented guys. The guys' attitudes were great on the whole trip. They made it about winning the gold medal, and that is what we were able to do."
Allen, who led the US in minutes played and rebounds throughout the tournament, pitched in 10 points and eight rebounds in a team-high 33 minutes by converting 3-of-5 field goals and 4-of-6 free throws and adding two assists, two steals and one block.
During the tournament, Allen showed off his ability to showcase his quickness and athleticism by running the court hard and finishing around the rim. While his overall performance at the free-throw line of 11-of-24 (44 percent) was not strong, he did lead the team in attempts and showed off a solid touch at to about eight feet.
Averaging a near double-double, he finished third on the team in scoring at 10.6 points per game and averaged 9.0 rebounds a contest.
Defensively, Allen is still not ready to hold up on the block physically because he’s so thin, but his length helped him block five shots and record six steals.
After picking up basketball relatively late in life, Banks tied for the fewest minutes played on the team and is clearly a work in progress on the offensive end (3-of-11 from the field). However, he’s ready to contribute on the offensive glass and on defense, recording nine offensive rebounds and leading the team with seven blocks despite playing only 39 minutes overall.
"I definitely got better — being coached by some of the best coaches in the world, playing great competition, playing with a lot of great athletes and learning how to pick my spots to be a great role player," Banks said.
The experience will help Banks understand how to operate in a similar role as a role player with the Longhorns this season, a positive development for Texas.
‘Horns target PJ Washington, a forward from Findlay Prep who hails from Texas originally, also played a key role in the final game, finishing second on the team with 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field and a 5-of-8 performance at the line.
At 6’7 and 225 pounds, Washington is a bit undersized for a post player, but his strength and physically made him a force on the offensive end throughout the tournament — he ultimately finished with an efficient 61-percent shooting performance.
The time working under Smart also helped him improve as a player.
"Yeah, I got better at playing both ends of the floor, playing together with my teammates and just hustling," Washington said.
Texas is currently the leader in his 247Sports Crystal Ball rankings.
Other Longhorns targets in the tournament included Norman (Okla.) North point guard Trae Young, another Texas native, and Norfolk (Va.) Oak Hill Academy point guard Matt Coleman.
The starter throughout the tournament at the point, Coleman shot well from three-point range (41 percent) and hit 53 percent of his shots overall, in addition to finishing second on the team in assists.
Young was the back up and didn’t shoot well from the field, but did manage to distribute the ball efficiently.
Coming away from the tournament, he’ll always connect Smart and his potential Texas teammates with an incredible experience.
"We just continued to follow Coach’s game plan, and we knew if we did that, we’d come out victorious," Young said. "Hats off to our coaching staff and everybody who helped us get to this point. This is the best experience I’ve been a part of so far."
Smart knew that only one outcome from the tournament was going to be acceptable. He and his team accomplished that goal in winning the gold medal.
But just as important for Smart’s future in Austin, he was able to work extensively with Allen and Banks for the first time and made an impact on three key 2017 targets who now have first-hand experience of what it’s like to play for the Texas head coach.
So consider it a mission accomplished in every sense.
"Every time you compete in these types of tournaments, you feel a level of pressure when you represent the USA and being committed to win a gold medal," Smart said. "I joked with people before we came down here that if we didn't win the gold medal, they wouldn't let us back in the country, so I'm proud we got it done."