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USA U19 Recap From a Kentucky Wildcats Basketball Perspective

John Calipari and Team USA leave Egypt with mixed results but a bright future for Kentucky.

Kentucky v North Carolina Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Months ago when it was announced that John Calipari would be coaching the USA U19 team, Big Blue Nation was excited at the prospect of Cal being able to coach some of his current players and building relationships with recruits.

The Kentucky Wildcats players that traveled to Colorado for the tryouts were Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, and PJ Washington. Both Washington and Diallo made the final cuts but Knox went home early with a hamstring tweak. If he would have stayed, I have no doubt he would have been a star in the tournament. He was raising eyebrows at the practices.

The main recruiting targets that went on the trip to Egypt for the tournament were small forward Cameron Reddish, shooting guard Romeo Langford, and point guard Immanuel Quickley.

Although the team earned the Bronze medal instead of the Gold, there were definitely some positive things that came out of the tournament. I will break down each player on the team as well as Tai Wynyard. He played for New Zealand and had a fine stretch of games.

PJ Washington

Arguably the best player for Team USA, Washington was the surprise of the tournament for Kentucky fans. He has been a bit of a forgotten man as far as the five-star recruits that will play for the ‘Cats next season.

Washington showed a versatility that isn’t common for a player labeled as a power forward. There were times when he was given the ball at more of a point forward position. He can create off the drive and he has to be checked from the perimeter.

But don’t let that fool you, he did plenty of the dirty work under the rim, notching multiple double-double games. Washington is going to be a very tough match up in college basketball this season and he will challenge Wenyen Gabriel for a starting position.

The one knock is that he has to improve his free throw percentage. He shot 48% for the tournament and as a team, the USA only shot 63%.

Highlights vs. Angola:

Stats: 12.9 points per game, 54% from the field, 48% free throws, 5.1 rebounds per game, 19 minutes per game

Hamidou Diallo

Hami was the big question mark for Kentucky fans heading into the tournament. The hype around him was huge thanks to the stellar NBA Draft combine where he posted a record vertical jump and displayed freakish measurements. But he opted to come back to UK for the upcoming season as there were too many unknowns surrounding his actual playing ability.

Although there is room for improvement in multiple areas, Hami was a highlight reel machine for much of the tournament as he ran the floor with ease and put up some of the nastiest dunks in Cairo.

It is still obvious that he needs to improve his shot and his decision making. In the loss to Canada, he wasn’t effective due to early foul trouble. It seemed as if he was trying too hard to not let R.J Barrett go off. In the end, his absence helped doom Team USA. He was only 2-10 from beyond the arch and, like PJ, his free throw percentage needs work. Diallo’s production did taper off near the end of the tournament.

Nevertheless, fans should be excited about the prospect of Diallo this season. He will be one of the most exciting players in college basketball and he still has a very high ceiling.

Highlights vs. Iran:

Stats: 10.9 points per game, 46% from the field, 20% from three, 57% free throws, 16 assists (overall), 8 steals (overall), 18.4 minutes per game.

Cameron Reddish

Out of the 2018 recruits that went, Cameron Reddish was the most impressive. He logged the most minutes and was the most productive. The 6-7 small forward started for the team and ran point guard. He was a versatile marvel as he shared the basketball with his teammates, shot the best percentage from beyond the arch, and showed a maturity that was beyond his years.

Reddish headed into the tournament as a Duke lean (according to the experts) but has emphatically stated that Duke is not his favorite. His relationship with Cal grew during the process and his freedom to play point and run as a positionless player had to make an impression.

Highlights vs. Iran:

Stats: 10.7 points per game, 51% from the field, 54% from three, 83% free throws, 22 assists (overall), 12 steals (overall), 20 minutes per game.

Immanuel Quickley

Although he didn’t put up as big of numbers as Reddish, Quickley had a nice tournament. He played in every game but was great in the Bronze medal game against Spain with 11 points and 4-5 from the field.

Quickley is a pure point guard that shoots the ball very well. His shooting will improve and he can be a Brandon Knight type of point guard for Kentucky. It’s widely assumed that Quickley will be Kentucky’s first commit for the 2018 class. He wants to make a decision before his senior season starts and all signs point to him pledging to John Calipari.

Stats: 6.7 points per game, 42% shooting, 42% from three, 100% free throws, 17 assists (overall), 6 steals (overall), 18.1 minutes per game.

Romeo Langford

Langford was plagued with back injuries during the tournament and he wasn’t able to compete at his maximum level. He only played in five out of seven games in Egypt.

He has more talent than he showcased and seemed to have gotten closer to Cal during their time together as was reflected in his blog for USA Today. He didn’t make any statements that indicated whether he had a favorite or not (UK, Uofl, IU, and Duke are all high on his list).

Stats: 4.2 points per game, 36% from the field, 33% from three, 100% free throws,

Tai Wynyard

If Tai Wynyard can give to Kentucky what he gave to the New Zealand U19 team, then the big man is going to see some minutes this season. Tai finished the tournament with three straight double-double games. He was one of the best big men in Egypt and teams found it tough to block him out.

He showed more of an ability to score than he has so far at Kentucky. Hopefully this experience let him know that he can compete with the best and that he does belong at a program like Kentucky. With questions at the center position, he will have a big opportunity to earn playing time this season.

Highlights vs. Korea:

Stats: 13.8 points per game, 60% from the field, 59% free throws, 9.2 rebounds per game, 26 minutes per game.

John Calipari

Obviously Cal would have liked to have brought home a Gold medal, but I think overall he should be pleased with the experience. He was able to really work with three of his newest ‘Cats and was able to build relationships with recruits.

I think he locked things up with Quickley and improved his chances with Reddish. As for Langford, that’s still up in the air.

Cal has taken some heat for losing, but the fact is that Canada had a damn good team and the best player in the entire tournament with R.J Barrett. There were some players that could have tried out for Team USA that may have made the team, Marvin Bagley and Zion Williamson in particular, and some of the best U19 players in the world are now NBA players (Markelle Fultz, De’Aaron Fox, Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo, etc...)

That’s not making excuses or saying Cal should have lost. It’s was a disappointing outcome in that regard and I am sure no one is as disappointed as Cal. His future with coaching for Team USA is up in the air and there’s no telling what will happen from here.

Now Cal has earned a break but I’m sure he will be back at it recruiting and evaluating his guys sooner rather than later. This experience should drive him even more this season.

Full stats from Egypt.