COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Once upon a time the organizational plan for USA basketball appeared to be to get the best players who would play, get a big-name NBA coach and all the rest would take care of itself.
That's no longer the philosophy. A bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics changed that. The people in charge realized the rest of the world was catching up, and they needed to put real thought into the team they picked and the coach in charge.
The choice of Mike Krzyzewski helped change the culture, get the American superstars like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant to buy in, and Krzyzewski has been a tremendous success since he took over in 2005. He will be the coach for at least one more Olympics in 2016, and the Americans say they have not had discussions about who would take over after that.
But for an organization that looks long-term more than it once did, it's a good bet that they have a target or two in mind for who succeed Coach K, and the search should begin and end with Florida coach Billy Donovan.
On Tuesday, Donovan won the gold medal for the third straight year coaching at the Under-19 and Under-18 age groups. The competition this time around at the FIBA Americas Under-18 Championships was not great, and the U.S. could have won with its junior varsity squad. But it was the way it won and the way Donovan coaches that once again left those in the front office of USA Basketball impressed.
"I think his style of play matches our strength and the style we need to play internationally," said Sean Ford, the Men's National team director. "The pressing leads to a tempo that we need to play, and the more possessions that we can have in a game, the better chance we have of winning because that means the more we're able to take advantage of our talent."
"We probably take more stock in (style) now than maybe we've done in the past," said Jim Tooley, CEO of USA Basketball. "...Billy has done so much for us I think he'd be a guy we'd have to take a look at."
Donovan's pressing style is his most attractive attribute to lead the Americans. The Under-18 USA team forced 119 turnovers in five games this past week in Colorado Springs.
Donovan isn't just a coach who embraces the press. He's one of the best coaches in all of basketball at coaching that style, and like Krzyzewski, he's convinced a bunch of stars to play team basketball on the offensive end.
It's surprising with a 24-second clock that more NBA teams don't utilize the press, because not only does it create turnovers, it limits the amount of time a team has to run its half-court offense once they beat the pressure.
"It's good for us," Donovan said. "Because what ends up happening is teams that are really good executing teams, they're not able to get into their stuff as freely. The other thing too, it creates pace."
The obvious reason why you don't see NBA teams playing that way is it takes depth and the willingness to use it, and NBA rosters aren't built to limit the minutes of their stars. But with the depth that the Americans have, they can absolutely play that way. Donovan didn't play one player more than 23 minutes per game this past week.
It does take some buy-in from the players, and that would be the one reservation if any for picking Donovan. What made Coach K such a success is that he gained the respect of the NBA's best stars because of his resume and star power.
Donovan does not quite have that type of Q-rating, but the argument could be made that he is the modern-day Krzyzewski with the success he's had starting as a head coach at such a young age. Donovan won more games than Krzyzewski in his first 20 years as a head coach (486 to 431) and is one of only four active college coaches with multiple titles. He's certainly well-regarded in the industry.
"I think he's one of the elite coaches in college if not all of basketball," Providence coach Ed Cooley said. "Unbelievable mind."
So Donovan passes the test for what the Americans are looking for in terms of style and resume, and he just finished his third year devoting a good chunk of his summer to USA Basketball.
The Americans will be looking for another coach willing to make a long-term investment like Coach K has, and Donovan is young enough at 49 to make that commitment.
"If I could somehow down the road contribute to doing something like that, that would be awesome," Donovan said. "... I enjoy it. It has not gotten in the way of me doing my job recruiting in July. However I can serve and whatever role and capacity if I can do it, I'd more than happy to do it."
Ranking the 2015 Players' Performances at the U18s
It's interesting to look at the recruiting rankings going into the summer and then at the end. A lot of movement up and down the rankings will occur. After watching the eight American prospects in the 2015 class at the U18s, here's how I would rank them strictly based off their performances in Colorado Springs.
1. Jalen Brunson (ranked 14th by Rivals.com, 22nd by ESPN.com): Brunson outplayed starting point guard Tyus Jones. The son of former NBA guard Rick Brunson, it's obvious that the younger Brunson has been well-schooled. He got his teammates the ball in scoring position, and what made Brunson more valuable than Jones was his ability to penetrate and also create scoring opportunities for himself. Brunson shot the ball well from deep (40 percent) and also finished well in the paint.
2. Allonzo Trier (38th by Rivals, 19th by ESPN): Trier leads Elite Youth Basketball (EYBL) in scoring, and it's easy to see why. He looks to score every time he touches the ball. With his size, scouts will probably spend the next couple years wondering if he can play the point, but that's not who he is. He's a good passer once he gets in the lane, but he looks to pass only when the chance to score has been taken away. That said, Trier did a nice job of picking his opportunities for Team USA, and he was efficient, averaging 12.6 points on 62.1 percent shooting for the tournament.
3. Stephen Zimmerman (fourth by Rivals, sixth by ESPN): Zimmerman was a good target and finisher playing alongside the penetrating American guards. He threw down some of the most thunderous dunks of the tournament—all with his left hand. Zimmerman did not get many opportunities to show his post-up game, but he looks limited in that area. On one post-up against Canada, he airballed a jump hook. Zimmerman also struggles to finish around the rim when he's not dunking, but he does shoot it well from 10 to 15 feet. He's also a good passer for his size. Defensively, he did a nice job protecting the rim with six blocks in five games.
4. Tyler Lydon (59th by Rivals, 59th by ESPN): Lydon should make the biggest jump in the recruiting rankings of all the Team USA players. The Syracuse commit did a great job playing his role as a spot-up shooter and the point on the press. His energy and effort were great. Lydon has a really nice stroke, especially for a guy with his size (6'9"), and he made 6-of-10 shots from distance. Lydon picked the perfect school in Syracuse. At any other program, it would be tough to decide whether to play him at the 3 or 4. At Syracuse, he'll be a big three who can knock down open shots and play on the bottom of the zone.
5. Luke Kennard (13th by Rivals, 31st by ESPN): Kennard will fit in nicely at Duke as a knockdown shooter similar to the role Andre Dawkins played for the Blue Devils this past year. Kennard isn't as talented as former Duke gunners like J.J. Redick, but his stroke is legit. He shot 51.7 percent from deep for the tournament and also showed off a nice mid-range jumper.
6. Isaiah Briscoe (19th by Rivals, 20th by ESPN): I'd really like to see more of Briscoe in another setting. He did a nice job blending in for the U.S. and it's obvious he's a solid slasher, but it was tough to get a good read on just how good he really is. Like Trier, he's a combo guard who will probably be better off playing the 2 in college.
7. Jaylen Brown (11th by Rivals, eighth by ESPN): Brown was the most gifted player from his class on the team—maybe on the entire roster—but he didn't get consistent playing time. He did miss a game because of illness and that may have been part of the reason his minutes were limited, but you get the impression that Brown doesn't have a great motor and didn't play with the kind of intensity the American coaches wanted.
Athletically, he's in Stanley Johnson's class. He also has a nice-looking jumper, can handle the ball and is just oozing with potential. Brown needs to find a college coach who will get the most out of him.
8. Chase Jeter (17th by Rivals, 13th by ESPN): Jeter did not play poorly and his effort was good. Right now, he just doesn't do one thing really well, but you can see why he's a highly rated recruit. At 6'10", he's a good athlete for his size, and there's enough there skill-wise to believe he'll continue to get better as he gets older.
Justise Winslow: Team USA MVP
Stanley Johnson was named tournament MVP and he had several nice games, but the most consistent performer for the Americans was Justise Winslow.
Winslow was the best player on both ends of the floor. He was disruptive on the defensive end with his quickness, strength and effort. Offensively, he was aggressive at the right times and shot the ball well.
Johnson is the more talented of the two, but Winslow deserved MVP honors. I also came away convinced that he'll be a starter for the Blue Devils this year and see time at both the 3 and the 4. He should be Duke's best defender right away, and he's the type of guy who doesn't need any plays run for him. He'll be great in transition and create opportunities for himself with his effort and energy.
Final Takeaways from the U18s
*As I wrote the other day, Canadian wing Dillon Brooks should shoot up the recruiting rankings this summer. Brooks was dominant as a scorer throughout the tournament and proved in the championship game that it wasn't just the competition. He scored a game-high 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting against the Americans.
*Canadian big man Chris Egi also was impressive in the championship game. Egi, who is headed to Harvard this year, had a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds against the Americans. He's quick for a post player and will be a great energy guy at Harvard.
*Tyus Jones was solid throughout the tournament and he'll be a nice game-manager at Duke. Don't expect Jones to be a great scorer for the Blue Devils, especially as a freshman. Jones has a hitch in his jumper and made only two of his 10 threes during the tournament. That is something Duke coaches could fix, but it could take some time. A reasonable expectation for Jones as a freshman would be that he averages around 7-8 points per game. If he's a star right away, I'll be surprised.
*Going up against Myles Turner in practice had to be beneficial for Stephen Zimmerman, who rarely gets to face guys his size in high school ball.
"Myles is a great player," Zimmerman said. "We go at each other. I wouldn't say I'm at a huge disadvantage not playing against guys my size all the time. It's great getting play against Myles, having to change my shot and do things different. It's just going to help me for the next level."
Zimmerman said an important part of his college decision is finding a school that will get him to the NBA. That's a pretty standard answer. But Zimmerman should be prepared to spend at least a couple years in college. He doesn't strike me as a one-and-done talent.
*It's a disservice to a lot of American players how early in their careers they begin to get attention. Allonzo Trier had a New York Times feature written on him when he was in the sixth grade. Trier also became the first player this year to play four seasons of EYBL.
A guy like that could go one of two ways. He could use those experiences to grow up quickly or he could get a huge head.
"It prepares you for your stages ahead in life," Trier said. "I've been through a lot of life experiences and media things like that. There's nothing I'm not prepared for at this point."
In the short time I got to talk to Trier, he seemed to be pretty seasoned and said most the right things. At the same time, he's about to play for his fourth high school team in four years. That sort of thing happens in this era of basketball, but it's a dangerous path to take.
Hopefully Trier can find a college where he's comfortable and has some stability in his life and basketball career for the first time.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.
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