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Evaluating Allen, Banks, and the Texas recruiting targets from the FIBA Americas U18 Championship

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What makes Jarrett Allen special and how the 2017 prospects performed in Chile.

Jarrett Allen; the only thing more unstoppable than his shot is his ‘do.
USA Basketball

The Shaka Smart-coached Team USA squad was victorious in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship, defeating Canada 99-84 to take the title on Saturday evening and earn gold medals for Texas Longhorns bigs Jarrett Allen and James Banks.

Over the course of five games, I was able to watch Team USA in action, and came away with some thoughts about Allen and Banks, as well as several Texas targets on the team. But first, some general comments about the tournament and team.

Team USA played two somewhat close games in the tournament. These games came against Canada and, somewhat surprisingly, against Chile.

Both of these games had something in common — Team USA’s opponent took care of the ball. Chile managed to only turn the ball over 11 times, and slowed the pace of the game down as much as possible. Canada only registered 14 turnovers. Here are the number of turnovers logged by American opponents in the three other games: 26, 33, and 25.

Smart’s squad lived off of transition opportunities from turnovers, and so things got sort of tight when Chile — an extremely over-matched opponent — wasn’t giving up the rock. Further, Chile was packed in a tight zone defense, and the Americans struggled all tournament with the FIBA three-point arc, connecting on less than 30 percent of their threes.

Canada was even tougher. By the FIBA youth world rankings, the Canadian team ranks third overall in the world, after the United States and Serbia. So all along the Americas tournament was likely to come down to a contest between these two teams. Canada mostly handled the American pressure, and Nickeil Walker and Abu Kigab got hot from three, combining to shoot 12-of-26 from beyond the arc.

But ultimately, Team USA prevailed. The gap between basketball in the United States and the rest of the world is even greater at the youth level than it is among professionals, which challenges some of the common critiques about the state of fundamentals in American youth basketball relative to the rest of the world.

It is not bad fundamentals that make so much of youth grassroots basketball unwatchable — it is that the coaches have no idea how to organize a team.

Shaka Smart, on the other hand, does.

A final comment — the three-point arc in FIBA leaves little room between it and the sideline. I lost count how many times a Team USA player stepped out of bounds while catching the ball attempting to spot up behind the three-point line. This was a case where simple unfamiliarity with the court cost the Americans. But none of the games were close enough for this to matter.

Jarrett Allen

This was my first chance to watch Allen, the cornerstone of Smart’s recruiting class, play for an extended period of time in a competitive setting. While the level of competition wasn’t as high as what he faced in the McDonald’s All-Star game, the games in the FIBA Americas tournament were far more competitive and intense. They were real basketball games, rather than a crappy exhibition.

Allen’s game is unusual. He doesn’t have a polished back to the basket game. He also doesn’t really shoot the ball from distance in a meaningful way. He has decent touch near the rim, but no one is going to confuse him with a stretch four.

So what is it that makes him such a highly-regarded big man? He just moves really, really well. He is fast running the floor end to end, but more than that he knows how to move around on the floor to find places to catch a pass and score, or get to an offensive rebound. He has a great feel for the game, and can really pass the ball.

Here are two examples of Allen working to find the right spots to finish around the rim:

On the defensive end of the floor, he didn’t block all that many shots, but he was generally in the right spot contesting chances around the basket.

Truth be told, some of Team USA’s opponents didn’t seem all that interested in bringing the ball inside, and instead were more focused on trying to hit threes. I am not going to lose sleep over a lack of shot blocking in a tournament where a number of teams took more than half of their attempts against the Americans from outside the three-point line.

Overall, Allen led the team in minutes, rebounds, was third in points scored, and was one of the best players on the team. And Allen’s fro is perfectly round, and expertly crafted. It is the sort of thing that impresses a middle-aged white guy like me.

James Banks

Banks didn’t get to play a lot, as he was the team’s third center, behind Allen and Mohamed Bamba (whom I really like). When Banks did play, we saw many of the same things that you would have seen from unedited footage (rather than highlight videos) of him playing in high school. Basically, Banks is a player that is just not very comfortable on the offensive end of the floor.

Banks really struggled offensively, shooting 27 percent from the floor and turning the ball over a lot. When he can catch the ball and immediately dunk it, things are fine. But if he gets the ball a few feet away from the basket then God knows what is going to happen. He just isn’t polished offensively at all.

Banks was pretty good defensively, and had his best game against Brazil. Circumstances lined up nicely for him in that game; Team USA built enough of a lead that he was able to play 14 minutes. And Brazil was one of the only teams in the tournament that was interested in challenging the Americans inside, which went about as well as you would have expected. It ended up being fun for Banks, who blocked five shots to go along with nine rebounds (again, in 14 minutes), while the Brazilians managed to convert on fewer than 30 percent of their two-point attempts.

Thoughts on other players

Michael Porter, Jr. -- He isn’t a Texas recruit, but I wanted to mention him. Porter’s godfather is Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar, and leaving nothing to chance Romar recently hired Porter’s father as an assistant on his staff. Porter is going to Washington, which is kind of a shame, because it means that many of his games will be late at night and no one east of the Mississippi will get to see him play.

Porter led the team in scoring, but it was more than just that; he was clearly the best player on the floor in every game he played. This guy is really, really good, but since he is still going into his senior year he won’t be playing for the Huskies until 2017.

Markelle Fultz -- You can make an argument that the second best player on the team is Fultz, who will be going to Washington this fall. He was the team’s second leading scorer, and led the squad in assists and steals. And he just made plays all over the floor.

When Fultz goes to the basket, he means business. He shot 54 percent from inside the arc, and threw down several rather aggressive dunks, which is pretty good for a guy who is 6-4.

Matt Coleman -- Now let’s move on to players that Texas is recruiting. Matt Coleman, who the FIBA website inexplicably lists as "Clifford Coleman" (it also calls Michael Porter "Mitchell") played heavy minutes during this tournament, leading the team in three-point shooting percentage. He is the only American who shot the ball well all tournament, which I am chalking up to random chance and the fact that the FIBA three-point line is farther from the hoop than what these guys encountered in high school.

Coleman played heavy minutes, and made some plays, but he didn’t just jump off the screen in the way that Porter, Allen, and Fultz did. I will have to go back and rewatch the games focusing more on him.

PJ Washington -- Let’s call him "Paul," which is how he is named on the official roster, and is at least plausible. The Texas staff is recruiting him. He played with a lot of energy, blocked some shots, and scored around the basket. He started as the team’s 4-man, and did not attempt a single three during the tournament. With so many players that I was unfamiliar with, he didn’t really stand out.

Trae Young -- Another Texas recruiting target who by some miracle is correctly named on the official FIBA roster, did stand out, but I think that is more because his hair makes him easy to spot on a less than high definition YouTube stream. His hair is really poofy and frequently unkempt. He has the look of a guy who just rolled out of bed and woke up ready to ball. That is really insightful analysis, I know.

I like Young’s handle. He shot the ball poorly during the tournament. If he comes to Texas, I hope he shoots it better. If he ends up at Oklahoma or Kansas I hope that every time he shoots the ball explodes in mid-air, showering all of his teammates with cat urine.


That Team USA won this tournament is not surprising; honestly failing to win the thing would be a shocking upset, particularly if it involved dropping a game to anyone other than Canada.

From a purely Texas-centric standpoint, it is hard to see this not benefiting Shaka Smart’s recruiting efforts. Getting to spend time coaching a number of his targeted recruits, building relationships and giving them a taste of his coaching style, can only benefit him. This USA basketball gig is pretty good.