COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Not that Duke needs the hype, but let's go ahead and add to the machine with a few notes from the FIBA America's Under-18 Championships this weekend in Colorado Springs.
The Americans have dominated the tournament through three games, and the future Blue Devils are leading the way.
Luke Kennard, an early 2015 commitment to the Blue Devils, dropped 30 points in the opener against Uruguay and is leading the Americans in scoring at 16 points per game. He's the best perimeter shooter on the team and has made 10 of 21 threes.
Incoming freshman wing Justice Winslow is the second-leading scorer at 14 points per game, and he'd get my vote thus far for MVP of the team. Fellow incoming freshman Tyus Jones is tied for the team lead in assists (20) and leads the team with eight steals.
The competition has been weak, but Duke fans should still get a little extra psyched for the season based off these performances, especially Winslow's. His outside shot looks improved, and he seems to have a knack for knowing where to be at all times.
"He's attacking the hoop, knocking down outside shots and just playing a great all-around game," Jones said.
Jones hasn't done anything spectacular, but it's clear that he plays the game under control, has great vision and can control pace. He's getting the chance to run a fast-paced offense that spreads the floor similar to how the Blue Devils play.
The opportunity for all of these players to play in this kind of environment under a coach like Billy Donovan is also beneficial. Donovan takes the job very seriously and demands a lot from the players, probably more so than they've ever experienced before.
"We're college-level coaches," Donovan said. "We're exposing them to college stuff."
It's no secret that Coach K has some pull in the USA program as the coach of the national team, and using the under-19 and under-18 teams to his advantage has been one perk.
Last year, Rasheed Sulaimon played for the gold-medal-winning U19 team along with Jahlil Okafor and Winslow. Winslow and Okafor were not Duke commits yet, but it was known even at that time that Duke was the favorite to get Okafor.
So that makes five future Blue Devils who have played on the team the last two years, and only Syracuse (two) and Arizona (two) have had multiple players or recruits on the teams. No shocker that both Jim Boeheim and Sean Miller have been part of the program as well. Boeheim has been Coach K's right-hand man on the national team, and Miller is an assistant under Donovan this year.
One other perk for Duke this week could be what Donovan is doing with Winslow. Donovan is starting Winslow at power forward, and don't be surprised if Coach K experiments with the 6'6" wing at that spot as well.
The Blue Devils will finally have enough true big men with Okafor, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee to play a more traditional lineup, but their most talented lineup could be Okafor and Winslow inside with Sulaimon, Quinn Cook and Jones on the perimeter. That gives Duke four shooters to put around Okafor.
Winslow said Coach K showed him a lot of tape of Rodney Hood, and he envisions playing a role similar to the one Hood played this past year. But Duke could be better off if Winslow ends up taking over Jabari Parker's spot at the 4 or at least splitting time with Jefferson.
"If (Krzyzewski) asked me to do it, I'll do it," Winslow said. "But that's not anything we really talked about during my recruitment."
It's interesting watching this age group with a 24-second clock and how Donovan's full-court press has given international competition fits the last two years.
Not only do the Americans force a ton of turnovers, most teams are down to 12 to 15 seconds left on the shot clock by the time they get in their half-court offense.
I asked Providence coach Ed Cooley if he thought more teams would press if college basketball ever goes to a shorter clock.
"No question," he said.
Cooley said one reason he wanted to be an assistant on this team was to learn more about the full-court press under Donovan.
Canada Wing Dillon Brooks Should Shoot Up Recruiting Rankings in 2015 Class
Canada's top-rated player in the 2015 class according to the recruiting services is Montaque Gill-Caesar, but it has been clear through three games that the best player on the Canadian roster is Dillon Brooks.
That ranking should change this summer if Brooks keeps playing like he has in Colorado Springs. He's averaging 23.3 points on 64.8 percent shooting and has showed an impressive all-around game.
Brooks still has some baby fat to his body and isn't sculpted like Gill-Caesar, but Brooks is more athletic than he looks.
"He's got advanced feel, he's got great skills and he's a phenomenal athlete," Canada coach Roy Rana said. "He's got a chance to be a very, very special player."
Brooks listed Oregon, Indiana, Dayton, Michigan State, Syracuse, Michigan and Iowa State as the schools he's considering right now. Providence could be one that gets thrown into that mix. Cooley has been able to watch Brooks in person for the first time this week.
Random Observations from the U18s
*It has been difficult to evaluate the American big men this week because of the huge size and strength advantage they have over the other countries. Post-up opportunities have also been rare as the American big men are getting most their buckets on easy dunks and layups.
That said, it's clear Texas-bound Myles Turner is the farthest along of any of the American big men, and that should be the case considering the other bigs are part of the 2015 class. Both Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter lack the presence that Turner has on the defensive end.
Turner has made it close to impossible for opponents to score at the rim and has a tournament-best 12 blocks in three games. He got the rare opportunity to show off his jumper on Sunday night when he knocked down a face-up 12-footer off the glass. I'm not sure how much of an impact Turner will make right away on the offensive end for Texas, but his shot-blocking ability could turn the Longhorns into one of the best defensive teams in the country.
Zimmerman has been the second-most impressive big man behind Turner, and he has also shown a nice face-up game and the ability to hit the mid-range jumper. But again, it would be nice to see these guys play against legitimate bigs.
*A handful of NBA teams have scouts here this week, and they've been slightly disappointed. Several scouts told me that the hope at an event like this is to discover some guys from outside the U.S., but the talent pool from the Central and South American countries at the tournament is pretty weak.
The scouts are still focused on what the Americans do, which is somewhat surprising to me considering that it has to be hard to evaluate based on the level of competition.
So why not just wait until they get to college?
"Increasing the sample size," one scout said.
They not only want as many chances to see these top prospects play, but they also want to see their demeanor and attitudes in this type of setting. The Celtics even had their brain doctor, Jon Niednagel, in attendance on Saturday. If you've never heard of Niednagel, read up. He might have one of the best jobs in sports. (H/t to Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress for filling me in.)
*Looking for the next Richard Pitino?
Donovan's son Billy is here this week helping coach alongside his father, even helping put together scouting reports for the Americans. The younger Donovan, a walk-on at Florida, has one year of eligibility left and then plans to be a high school coach. His career will definitely be worth tracking.
*While the talent level was not too impressive for the South and Central American teams, they all get an A+ for their enthusiasm and attitudes. It's obvious that they all respect their coaches and take great pride in playing for their country. Not to say the United States' guys do no take pride in sporting the red, white and blue, but it's obviously on another level for other countries.
*So far the U.S. has won by an average of 68.7 points per game, and that's with a semi off-night against Mexico. The Americans are on another level, and Canada looks to be the only team that even belongs on the same court as the Americans. Assuming the Canadians beat Argentina on Monday, they will have a hard time sticking with the Americans, but they're certainly closing the gap at every level.
Rowan Barrett, the assistant general manager for Canada, said the team that will represent the Canadians at the Under-19 World Championships next year should be even stronger as some of the best upcoming talent for the country is in the age group just below this one and will likely play up next year.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.
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