The future of USA Basketball is in good hands

Colorado Springs played host to 54 of the top high school basketball players in the country this past weekend as they converged for USA Basketball Junior Minicamp. The event was headlined by 15 seniors from the class of 2017 vying for selection to the Nike Hoops Summit in April and FIBA U19 World Championship held next summer in Cairo. The rest of the campers were from the classes of 2019 and 2020 — a group of high school freshmen and sophomores hoping to make the U.S. roster for FIBA junior tournaments over the next two years.

Blending the top seniors with players two and three grades younger has helped USA Basketball maintain a culture of excellence responsible for eight straight gold medals at the U16 and U17 level. Many of the seniors have been involved in the program for multiple years and watched the players above them move on from college to the NBA. Now it’s their turn to be leaders and set a good example for the next wave of talent set to take over the junior program.

SB Nation was at the event for the second consecutive year and will roll out features over the next week. Before that, here are four takeaways from the camp.

1. Michael Porter Jr. was the best player at the camp by a wide margin

Michael Porter Jr. is basically everything the NBA wants out of a forward right now. At 6’10, 215 pounds, Porter is a prototypical three/four hybrid with elite athleticism, a developing shooting stroke and the advanced skill level to score from all over the floor. This weekend he was making everything from turnaround fadeaways in the post to off-the-dribble threes to effortless dunks.

Porter Jr. committed to Washington in July shortly after his father was hired as an assistant under Lorenzo Romar. He’s generally considered the No. 2 player in the class of 2017 behind 7-footer DeAndre Ayton, but no one would be surprised if he’s the first pick in the 2018 NBA Draft because of his versatility.

To compare him to recent wings from the last two classes: He’s significantly more explosive athletically than Brandon Ingram or Jayson Tatum, and he’s a much better shooter than Josh Jackson or Jaylen Brown. Porter will have to work on his ball handling and continue to get stronger, but it only takes about 10 minutes of watching him to believe he’s the total package.

2. The class of 2017 is better than 2016 at the top but can’t match its depth

The freshmen entering college basketball this season have been hailed as one of the strongest classes in recent memory even without a consensus No. 1 player. Instead, the class of 2016 was special because of its depth. It had a great group of five- and four-star recruits that are going to make the college game a lot of fun and look like strong long-term prospects, too. There’s also the idea that anyone out of a tier of 10 or so players could eventually assert themselves as the top dog in the class.

The class of 2017 is the opposite. Ayton and Porter are star-level talents that would likely be ahead of everyone in 2016. There’s also an impressive group of 5-star talents behind them, led by big men Wendell Carter and Mohamed Bamba, wings Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo and point guard Trevon Duval. The top of this class isn’t nearly as fluid as it was in 2016.

So if you’re wondering how this year’s crop of high school seniors compares to last year’s, you could break it down like this: 2016 is stronger 1-40, 2017 could be stronger 1-5. Here are some players from the class of 2017 who stood out in Colorado Springs:

Collin Sexton: The 6’2 point guard from Alabama went from unranked to top 10 thanks to a huge summer. He led the EYBL in scoring with 31 points per game and won MVP in his first international competition this summer with USA Basketball. He was the most aggressive player at the camp all weekend, launching himself into the paint and finding ways to finish in traffic. His non-stop intensity helped set the tone for the weekend.

Kevin Knox: Physically, there isn’t much separating Porter and Knox. The 6’9 combo forward is a freak athlete who got off the ground as easily as any player at the camp. He’s a killer in transition and a tip-dunk waiting to happen. Where Porter has a major edge is on the skill side. Knox can hit a catch-and-shoot jumper, but he’s still developing as a ball handler and shot creator off the dribble. That’s OK for a player who just turned 17 years old.

Austin Wiley: The biggest and strongest player at the camp at 6’11, 250 pounds with a 7’5 wingspan. He didn’t show much of a face-up game, but he dove hard to the rim after screens, rebounded well and was able to score through multiple defenders in the paint. This is Bruce Pearl’s marquee signing at Auburn and the type of big man that can get the Tigers back to the NCAA tournament.

Gary Trent Jr.: The 6’5 shooting guard is the son of Gary Trent, the No. 11 pick in the 1995 draft who became known as “The Shaq of the MAC” at Ohio. Like his dad, Trent’s strength stands out. Other players at the camp were just bouncing off of him on drives. He used his chest to create separation on dribble pull-ups, which he knocked down with regularity. There were better long-term prospects at the camp because of his lack of explosiveness around the rim, but he should be a ready-made college star from day one.

3. The class of 2019 is developing nicely

This event was the first time the class of 2019 got an extended look in front of scouts. Here are five players who stood out:

Scottie Lewis: A 6’5 wing from New Jersey, Lewis showcased elite athleticism and an eagerness to defend. He has a ways to go as a shooter and ball handler, but there aren’t many people who can run and jump with him. His energy and explosiveness make him a prospect to monitor over the next few years.

Vernon Carey Jr.: The son of former NFL left tackle Vernon Carey, the 6’9, 250-pound lefty was the most imposing physical force in the 2019 group. He also showed off a developing shooting stroke by hitting a few jumpers.

Christian Brown: The 6’6 wing from South Carolina arguably had the best combination of three-point shooting and athleticism from the 2019 players.

Bryan Antoine: Lewis’ teammate at New Jersey’s Ranney High, Antoine might have been the most polished scorer of the 2019s. The 6’5 wing was comfortable scoring off pull-up jumpers and did well to create separation off the dribble in the halfcourt.

Matthew Hurt: The 6’8 forward from Minnesota was one of the best shooters at the camp from the 2019 class. He could take opposing bigs out to the three-point line and showed an ability to hit shots from tough angles inside the arc. He also didn’t back down defensively against an older, stronger group of big men during scrimmages.

4. Young big men are increasing comfortable on the perimeter

It was encouraging to see so many of the young bigs attuned to the trends of the modern game by showing off face-up skills. The next generation of front court players know they need to be able to shoot the ball, and many already seem comfortable on the perimeter.

One name to remember from the 2020 group is Baltimore native Isaiah Todd, a 6’10 big man who showed an impressive skill level throughout the event. Of the senior big men, Michigan State commit Jaren Jackson Jr. displayed the best touch from outside.