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October 18, 2011

What we learned: USA Basketball

MORE USA: Saturday standouts | Sunday stars

Now that USA Basketball's 17-and-under team mini-camp in Colorado Springs, Colo., has come to a close, it's time to take a look back at our notes. After watching some sessions of intense practice, skill work and scrimmaging here's what we learned during our trip to Colorado.

Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon separated themselves

It's not exactly a surprise that 2013's second ranked player Jabari Parker and sixth ranked player Aaron Gordon were able to separate themselves during USA Basketball workouts. However, the 6-foot-7 juniors didn't just create a little distance between themselves and their potential teammates, they opened up a chasm.

What's so impressive about these two young players isn't just that they were the most talented players in the camp, they were also the hardest workers and played the hardest.

With Parker, he was everything that we've grown to expect. He's a well-rounded wing who can drain deep jumpers, attack for dunks in transition, rebounds and makes good decisions. The comparisons to guys like Paul Pierce and Grant Hill continue to ring true and the Chicago (Ill.) Simeon product has developed a series of nasty step-back moves off the dribble that are absolutely indefensible.

As for Gordon, there seems to be a never-ending supply of energy coming from him. Even when he was sick on Sunday morning there was no dropoff in his play. At the moment, he's still in the mold of a combo-forward but Gordon has put in serious work on his perimeter game and is a much-improved ball-handler -- especially in transition where he loves to use a behind the back crossover -- and his shooting is coming around quite nicely.

2. Stanley Johnson is going to get buckets

There are times that Stanley Johnson forces things a bit. There are actually several of them. But, it's hard to criticize him for it because he's playing hard, active on both ends and will go and compete on the glass to get the ball for his team.

Already checking in at 225 pounds, he's a thick and strong sophomore wing who is surprisingly athletic. He was tough to stop along the baseline but where he's really improved is with his jumper and he was canning them at a high rate from between 12 and 20 feet off of the dribble or the catch. At the end of the day, he's a unique guy because of his Mark Aguirre type body and ability to play inside/out. No matter what, though, he's going to get buckets and there's not much that defenders can do to stop him.

3. Big man improvement

The early book on junior big man Jimmie Taylor has been that if he gets some consistency and aggressiveness, his game will take off. Well, the product of Greensboro (Ala.) High has started to develop in both of those -- and several other -- areas of his game and his stock should soon be skyrocketing if the Taylor who takes the floor this season is anything like the Taylor who took the floor at USA Basketball.

Long and slender, Taylor is every bit of 6-9 with an impressive 7-foot-6 wingspan. He can run the floor very well, is a shot rejector on defense and has become a force on both the offensive and defensive glass.

However, the most notable improvements are with his scoring ability and desire to get the ball and go to work. Taylor hit 15-foot jumpers, jump-hooks and spun by defenders for dunks. At times, he barked at teammates for not getting him the ball. Not because he was being selfish, but because he had it cooking on the inside and he wanted to go to work.

Consider this about Taylor as well, he just turned 16 in September and by age could easily be a part of the class of 2014. Regardless of class, his improvement from earlier in the summer to now was maybe the single-biggest story of the 17-and-under mini-camp.




 

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