PORTLAND, Ore. — Early mock NBA drafts for 2016 predict three players on the World Select Team likely to go in the top five. While the USA Basketball Junior National Select Team may lack the top-end talent of the World Select’s Ben Simmons, Skal Labissiere and Cheick Diallo, it is hoping to make up for that with a certain cohesiveness.
The teams compete Saturday in the Nike Hoop Summit from the Rose Garden at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
Ten of the 11 players on the U.S. squad have prior USA basketball experience, with Kinston, N.C., forward Brandon Ingram being the lone newcomer. The stability doesn’t end there. Despite the recent spate of elite high school players who bounce from one school to another, nine of the players on the U.S. roster played their senior year for the same high school they started with.
“I think the pattern has changed a little bit for the good,” said Don Showalter, who coached many of the current roster as the 2014 USA Basketball U17 National Team coach. “These guys are pretty well set with their high school teams and I think they enjoyed success on a gradual basis because they stayed at one place. Those guys get set in their environment, feel comfortable and I think it’s a good deal. I feel so good that those guys are not going. (Moving around) not only affects them, it affects the perception of who they are.”
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Several of the players on the team won four state titles with the same high school: Malik Newman, who won four state titles at Callaway (Jackson, Miss.); Ingram, who won four 2A state titles at Kinston; and Chase Jeter and Stephen Zimmerman, who won four Division I titles at Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas).
Sticking around also meant that Jaylen Brown of Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.), Caleb Swanigan of Homestead (Fort Wayne, Ind.) and Ivan Rabb of Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland, Calif.) got to end their senior year with their first state title.
“It’s the first state title for Oakland in a long time,” Rabb said.
“It is just fun being at the same place, even if you don’t get the same competition,” Swanigan said. “You can get your competition in games like these.”
Showalter said that USA Basketball looks less at stability than it does at talent and whether a player will fit in.
“I don’t want to make a blanket statement, but generally the guys who move around probably aren’t as concerned about making a team better,” Showalter said. “We’re here, making a team, as opposed to 12 individuals.”
While stability may be a nice byproduct of a player staying at one high school, it doesn’t always trump talent. That’s why Allonzo Trier, who is from Seattle and played at high schools in Oklahoma City (OKC Storm), the Northeast Oklahoma Association of Home Schools (Tulsa, Okla.), Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) and this year at Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.), is on the U.S. roster.
The ALL-USA, McDonald’s All American and Jordan Brand Classic guard averaged 26.6 points and 5.4 rebounds a game this season.
“I don’t know of any disadvantages for me of moving around besides having to relocate,” Trier said. “The advantage is I’ve gotten to play in all parts of the States. I’ve gotten to test my game and play different styles. It’s allowed me to prove myself in different areas.”
While one-school stability may be lacking on the World Select Team, that’s almost by necessity. Because most countries don’t have a high school-based athletic programs, the route to becoming an elite basketball player can be a byzantine one. A good example is 7-foot forward Thon Maker.
Born in Wau, South Sudan, he fled civil war there to Uganda, before settling in Perth, Australia. With his legal guardian Ed Smith landing coaching jobs, Maker has since played for Metairie Country Day (Metairie, La.), Carlisle School (Martinsville, Va.) and this past year at the Athlete Institute in Orangeville, Ontario.
“I think at each moment, it was the right situation,” Smith said. “After Metairie Park, he wanted to work toward the East Coast side of things down South. I knew the coach (at Carlisle), it was a better fit and he wound up going to the Carlisle School. After two years there, he was only 191 (pounds). This past year, after playing in Canada, he’s 218. That’s a big difference.”
While Maker knows several of the World Select players, other than Athlete Institute guard Jamal Murray, who is also on the team, he is having to adapt quickly to new faces.
“We have to do the little things,” Maker said. “On the court in practice, we have to communicate. In the hotel room, off the court, you have some downtime, you have to find a way to interact with the other guys. You do that when you’re out to dinner or at lunch. I’ve even been practicing my Spanish.”