By Seth Davis
June 19, 2009

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- What do you get when you take three dozen of the best college basketball players in America, 12 of the top college coaches and bring them into one gymnasium for a good old-fashioned tryout?

You get hoop heaven, my friends.

That was the scene this week at the U.S. Olympic training complex, where two teams were selected to compete for Team USA in international competitions next month. The younger team, coached by Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon, will compete in New Zealand at the FIBA Under-19 World Championships. The older squad, led by Wisconsin's Bo Ryan, will head to Serbia for the World University Games.

USA Basketball conducted four sessions before the selection committee, chaired by Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, decided which 24 players (12 for each team) would make the trips. From my standpoint, this exercise was valuable for two reasons (three if you count the chance to escape the soggy northeast and feel the Colorado sunshine). First, I got to watch a bunch of elite college players from a variety of programs get thrown together in one mix. That gave me a jump on figuring out who's ready to shine next season. And second, I caught up with college coaches who volunteered to either coach these teams or help out during the trials, and I took the pulse of their programs.

Today, I'm passing along what I learned about the players. On Monday, I'll post a column with a compilation of what I got from the coaches. I know it's only June, but is there ever a bad time to learn more about the always-sunny world of college hoops?

Herewith, part one:

-- Some three dozen NBA executives and scouts were also on hand, and I polled a few of them on the question of who was the best pro prospect in the gym. The general consensus, including my own, was that the answer was Evan Turner, Ohio State's 6-foot-7 forward.

Turner was a little underwhelming during the first two sessions, mostly because, like everyone else, he was feeling things out and trying to fit in. After the morning workout concluded on Wednesday, Turner received a call from Buckeyes coach Thad Matta, who told Turner he had heard the player was being too passive. "He's always telling me during the season that I can't have off nights," Turner said. "I've always thought I was good, but it has taken me a while to think like I'm the best player."

It's obvious why the scouts like Turner. He has the size and skills of a natural NBA small forward. The only thing he lacks at the moment is consistent long-range shooting. (He was 2 for 5 at the trials.) Turner pointed out that he did shoot 44 percent from behind the arc as a sophomore, but he only made 23 threes the entire season. "I really can shoot from out there, but I'm just so comfortable with my midrange game, those are the shots I tend to take," he said.

Still, Turner recognizes that if he added this dimension to his game, he would be a truly devastating offensive player -- and probably an NBA lottery pick next spring. To that end, he has been shooting 200 threes a day this offseason. He also said he has been working on his left-handed passing by dribbling outside and firing passes at random targets. "If I see a street sign, I'll try to hit that, or sometimes I'll try to hit a squirrel," he said with a smile. "Sometimes I just get bored, so I'll walk outside and dribble. It's the most fun thing to do."

• Turner might have been the best pro prospect at the trials, but if I were a college coach and I needed to pick one player who could help me win a game tomorrow, I would take Purdue's Robbie Hummel, a 6-8 junior. Hummel was the model of efficiency during the first four sessions: 7.5 points per game on 50 percent shooting (6 for 13 from three), to go with a 4.3 rebound average and a total of six assists and two steals.

The biggest question with Hummel remains the condition of his chronically injured back. He suffered a hairline fracture in his lower (L5) vertebrae last December, and it is still not completely healed -- nor is Hummel sure if it will ever be completely healed. Hummel told me he began wearing a white plastic back brace in January, which helped him get through the season. He also wore the brace at the trials, but Hummel's doctors have said he might get cleared to play without the brace once the World University Games are over.

During the season, Hummel also had to wear a brace off the court for several hours each day. "You never really understand what your back does for you until it hurts," he said. "It got the point where it hurt just to sit down. It wasn't severe pain, but it was there. I'd be sitting in class and would just have to stand up."

You would have never guessed by watching Hummel that he was in any kind of discomfort. I expect he'll be Team USA's most important player at the World University Games. And if his back progresses to the point where he can stay pain-free, he could very well end his junior season as the Big Ten's player of the year and a surefire NBA first-round pick.

• It's not hard to assess Mike Tisdale's strengths and weaknesses. The Illinois center stands 7 feet tall, and his shooting range extends to 15 feet. But he also weighs just 235 pounds, and every time he tried to battle inside he got thrown around by beefy guys like Clemson's Trevor Booker and North Carolina's Deon Thompson. In the end, that made the difference for Tisdale as he was one of four players cut from the World University Games squad.

It's not like Tisdale isn't trying to get stronger and gain weight. He has put on 50 pounds since the start of his freshman season, thanks to lots of hours in the weight room plus a gluttonous diet that has him scarfing down 6,000 calories a day, with a heavy emphasis on proteins. "I sweat while I'm eating. It's pretty intense," he said. Just hearing his breakdown of his daily diet made me feel bloated.

Breakfast is five or six eggs, plus toast. Lunch is lots of chicken and beef, and dinner is a carb-heavy helping of pasta. In between meals, Tisdale eats a half-dozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, drinks several large protein shakes, and he gulps down as much water and milk as he can, er, stomach.

When I mentioned to Tisdale that his coach, Bruce Weber, who was in Colorado Springs as a member of the selection committee, said he'd like to see his center gain another 20 pounds, Tisdale laughed and said, "Wishful thinking."

Even though Tisdale got cut, the tryout will help him get ready for the season. "I got my shot blocked a couple of times. I'm not used to that," he said. "These are some of the best guys in the country. It makes me feel confident that if I play my game and post up strong and get good angles, I can bang with anybody."

• The player I was most curious to see, largely because I had never seen him play before, was Seth Curry, the 6-3, 180-pound wisp of a guard from Liberty who was the nation's top-scoring freshman last season at 20.6 points per game. After the season ended, Curry transferred to Duke, where he has to sit out a year before becoming eligible for the 2010-11 season. You might think Curry came to Colorado Springs wondering if he could hang with all these players from big-name schools, but when I asked him if he felt that way, he looked at me quizzically and said, "No, I was very confident coming in. I never had any doubt."

It took Curry about a session and a half to find his shooting stroke, but even when his shots weren't falling he excelled in other facets of the game -- including his ability to stop dribble penetration. He also demonstrated the virtuoso's savvy that defined his older brother Stephen's spectacular career at Davidson.

Case in point: During one exchange, Curry found himself with the ball on a one-on-two fast break. The smart play would have been to pull the ball out, and it looked for a moment like Curry was doing just that. In fact, Curry was just making his defender, Butler point guard Shelvin Mack, think that's what he was doing. Curry's slight hesitation fooled Mack into relaxing for an instant, which allowed Curry to switch directions and blow by Mack for an easy layup. Curry ended the fourth session as the leading scorer of the entire trials at 12.3 ppg, and he made 11 for 22 from three-point range.

Not only did Curry's dad, Dell, play in the NBA, but also he works for the Charlotte Bobcats. That means Seth is able to work out with the Bobcats' players and coaching staff, on top of the three days a week he hits the weights to add muscle to his sinewy frame. Curry looked plenty comfortable playing the point in Colorado Springs, but he told me the Duke coaching staff said they wanted him to keep his scorer's mentality. They plan to use him in much the same way they currently use 6-5 senior Jon Scheyer, who often brings up the ball to initiate offense and then shifts over to the wing.

Since Curry will have to sit out next season before becoming eligible, he had extra incentive to make the Under-19 team to enjoy the game conditions he won't experience next season. "I'm trying to get used to playing with very good players around me, so I can learn how to make plays for other guys," he said. "I think I'm stacking up well here. I'm getting my shot, I'm getting to the hole. I'm not shooting as well as I want to, but at least I'm making good plays."

• Four players were cut from each team. (There would have been five cuts from the under-19 team, but UCLA sophomore forward Drew Gordon had to leave early because of a knee injury that will not require surgery.) The players cut from the under-19 squad included two high school players, Florida-bound guard Kenny Boynton and Pittsburgh signee Dante Taylor, a 6-9 forward. The other two cuts were Minnesota center Ralph Sampson III, who looked bored and out of shape; and West Virginia guard Darryl Bryant, who shot just 29.2 percent from the floor (including 1 for 7 from three-point range).

Besides Tisdale, the players cut from the World University Games team were South Florida guard Dominique Jones, Arizona point guard Nic Wise (who shot a trials-low 17.6 percent) and Purdue center JaJuan Johnson. I was a little surprised at that last cut, partly because the 6-9 Johnson had such a terrific sophomore season. In the end, though, Johnson was outplayed by Mississippi State forward Jarvis Varnado, who led the World University Games group in rebounds with 5.0 per game while Johnson snagged just 2.3. Johnson actually blocked two more shots than Varnado, but while I think Johnson has more long-term upside than Varnado, he has to learn to play harder and tougher. I'm sure that was a valuable lesson he learned this week.

• My colleague Luke Winnhas already weighed in on perhaps the week's biggest revelation, Butler forward Gordon Hayward. I knew Hayward was a great shooter, but I didn't realize just how versatile he was offensively. He can score in so many ways, and he's terrific at putting the ball on the deck and finding the open man. (He had seven assists to two turnovers.)

Another surprise performer was Northwestern forward John Shurna, a 6-8 forward who was the second-leading scorer at the entire trials with 10.3 ppg. Shurna has a funny-looking release (it's an unsightly low push-set shot), but darn if that thing doesn't go in a lot. Shurna was 9 for 16 from behind the arc, and his size and shooting touch make him an ideal Princeton offense player.

On the flip side, North Carolina forward Deon Thompson had a rough week, making just 11 for 41 from the field. I've long thought Thompson had a real chance to be a first-tier college player, but I'm starting to wonder if he's going to be able to grow out of being a complementary guy. I was also underwhelmed by Washington forward Quincy Pondexter. He does a lot of glue-guy things to help the Huskies win, but in this kind of pickup setting Pondexter struggled, making just 8 of his 21 field goal attempts.

You May Like