The FIBA U-19 World Championships concluded Sunday evening with the U.S. defeating Serbia in the title game. Here's a look at what we learned from the tournament with an emphasis on stuff that will impact next year's college basketball season:
1. If USA Basketball was ailing in the early 2000's, that certainly is no longer the case. Thanks to an 82-68 victory over Serbia in Sunday's U-19 gold medal game, the U.S. now holds the FIBA world titles at every men’s age group. That the Americans won every game they played in Prague by nine or more points is especially impressive because the U-19 level has been the most difficult for the U.S. to dominate. Prior to this year, the U.S. had only held the U-19 world title once since 1995, a product of the fact that other nations sent more cohesive teams and that top American prospects at this age level often focused on preparing for college or the NBA draft instead.
2. Aaron Gordon has a chance to elevate Arizona into national title contention next year. The highly touted freshman forward earned tournament MVP honors, averaging team highs of 12.6 points and 6.2 rebounds despite logging only 18.8 minutes per game for the ultra-deep U.S. squad. There has been much discussion about whether Gordon can be as effective playing small forward at Arizona as he has been at power forward elsewhere, but one aspect of his game that will translate at any position is his motor. "A lot of guys are really talented and athletic," U.S. coach Billy Donovan told USA Today on Thursday. "What makes him so different is his effort, his energy. ... He really has an incredible motor."
3. Any list of breakout candidates for next season is not complete without Louisville sophomore Montrezl Harrell. The 6-foot-8 forward played sparingly last season behind Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan, but he built on the glimpses of potential he offered as a freshman with a strong showing in Prague. He averaged 10.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, all while playing only a modest 18 minutes per game. Harrell was especially effective in Sunday's title game when he scored 17 points, blocked four shots and changed the game in the second half with his ability to protect the rim. Even if his offensive game is still raw and he lacks range on his jump shot, he may be a potential first-round draft pick after next season.
4. The revelation of the entire tournament for the U.S. was a little-known guard who received only one scholarship offer in high school. Louisiana-Lafayette's Elfrid Payton needed a late plea from coach Bob Marlin just to get the chance to try out, but the 6-foot-3 combo guard certainly made the most of his chance. Not only did he beat out a handful of higher-profile guards to make the U.S. roster, he also started all nine games and made an impact with his defense and ability to get to the rim in particular. Payton finished with 21 steals in nine games, second only to Marcus Smart. In the title game alone, he had nine points, six assists and five steals, one of which resulted in a picturesque alley-oop pass to Gordon for a dunk.
5. Freshman likely to make a big impact next season: Washington's Nigel Williams-Goss. The Findlay Prep product validated Donovan's decision to include him on the U.S. roster, logging the most minutes on the team and contributing a team-high 24 assists against only six turnovers. Williams-Goss was especially productive during the title game when starting point guard Marcus Smart endured minor foul trouble. In addition to scoring 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting, he displayed the poise and leadership in a big spot that makes him the likely heir apparent to the graduated Abdul Gaddy in the Washington backcourt.
6. The next great Aussie guard may be the son of former North Carolina player Cecil Exum. Dante Exum flashed enough ability in Prague to suggest he may even surpass his father's basketball accomplishments, averaging 18.2 points and 3.8 assists per game for the Australian team. He saved his best for a quarterfinal upset of Spain, delivering 33 points and knocking down 12 of 13 foul shots to preserve the win. Exum is viewed as a potential first-round pick in the 2014 NBA draft, but he has insisted that he intends to play a year or two of U.S. college basketball first. He is being pursued by the likes of Indiana, Michigan, Louisville and Georgetown.
7. If any doubt remained whether Tyler Ennis was capable of taking over as Syracuse's starting point guard next season, the freshman has put an end to it with his performance for Canada in Prague. Given the green light to shoot early and often, Ennis averaged 20.9 points per game yet shot an efficient 46.8 percent from the floor. He had 42 points and eight rebounds in a consolation bracket game against China, propelling Canada to a sixth place finish in the tournament. The lone flaw in Ennis' game was a modest 25 assists to go with 24 turnovers. Still, he has clearly been a bright spot for a Canadian team that is 1-3 thus far and in danger of not advancing out of group play.
8. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy had to be smiling back in Oxford as he watched Spanish big man Sebastian Saiz play in Prague. Saiz, who committed to the Rebels in October, averaged 9.6 points and 9.4 rebounds for Spain and tallied a total of 34 points and 27 rebounds in his team's final two games of the tournament, victories over Canada and Croatia. Tougher and more physical than most European big men, Saiz should carve out a big role right away for an Ole Miss team with a void in the middle next season. The Rebels landed him because of Kennedy's dogged recruiting and because Cuban-born assistant Sergio Rouco made Saiz feel comfortable with his ability to speak Spanish.
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