With his scintillating all-court game, Gonzaga guard Blake Stepp
shone at the Pan Am Games trials
Before last weekend, the last time Gonzaga junior guard Blake
Stepp was on a national stage was in the 2003 NCAA tournament.
There he was, on the court in Salt Lake City, anguished and
drained at the end of double overtime after missing a five-foot
bank shot that would have beaten top-seeded Arizona and sent the
Bulldogs to the West Regional semifinals.
On Sunday in Colorado Springs, at the USA Basketball trials for
the Pan Am Games team, Stepp did, at last, advance. He was chosen
as one of the 17 finalists for 12 berths to be awarded in July in
Orlando for the international tournament, to be held in the
Dominican Republic in August. Matched against quicker foes, the
6'4" Stepp, listed as an off-guard but also playing the point,
was dazzling. In one session he had 13 points, six steals, 10
assists and only one turnover--exhibiting the court savvy USA
Basketball (and Michigan State) head coach Tom Izzo was looking
"He's a better point guard than I thought," said Izzo. "As a
passer, Stepp has a great ability to put the ball right in front
Stepp's virtuoso performance at a U.S. national team trials
continues a Gonzaga guards tradition. In 1984 a Bulldogs senior
named John Stockton dished his way to prominence at the Olympic
trials even though he was one of the last cuts. Two years ago Dan
Dickau raised his profile by making the World University Games
Does Stepp, the 2002-03 West Coast Conference player of the year,
use that missed shot against Arizona as a motivator? "Nah," he
says. "I watched that game on ESPN Classic once; I don't think I
need to watch it again."
Davis Plays Big
One court over from Izzo's auditions, Oregon coach Ernie Kent was
seeking a few good big men for the Junior World Championships in
Thessaloniki, Greece, beginning on July 10. Standing particularly
tall was one of Izzo's own: Paul Davis, a 6'11", 245-pound
sophomore-to-be at Michigan State. The Spartan was most
impressive in the paint, grabbing a trials-best 8.3 rebounds per
session. Davis, who has worked on his post moves and outside
shot, also averaged 12 points. "I like that he can defend in the
post and on the perimeter, and can score from the post and the
perimeter," says Kent.
With several of last season's stellar underclassmen leaving for
the NBA, their college teams have big sneakers to fill. Here are
the players who are penciled in to try.
TEAM PLAYER POSITION '03-04 CLASS
GEORGIA TECH CHRIS BOSH* F THEODIS TARVER, SOPH.
NOTRE DAME CHRIS THOMAS* PG CHRIS QUINN, SOPH.
OREGON LUKE RIDNOUR PG AARON BROOKS, FR.
SYRACUSE CARMELO ANTHONY SF JOSH PACE, JR.
TEXAS T.J. FORD PG ROYAL IVEY, SR.
A late bloomer last season, the 6'9" Tarver had 4.2 blocks per 40 minutes
The 6'2" Quinn had a superb 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio in
Heralded 6-foot recruit from Seattle's Franklin High is billed
as T.J. Ford with a jump shot
The opportunistic 6'5" Pace has an ugly shot but can fill out a
Rugged 6'3", All-Big 12 defender needs to get a better handle
*Has not signed with agent; eligible to return to school