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by Luke Winn
The U.S. assembled a deeply talented roster for this event, but the three guards coach Jeff Capel relied on to carry the team were Duke-bound Kyrie Irving, Marquette-bound Vander Blue, and high school senior-to-be Austin Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Each player offered glimpses of his college potential.
• Rivers should just reclassify and jump to college now. The 6-foot-3 guard was the most lethal perimeter scorer in the entire tournament, and on Tuesday he set a new U.S. record for points in a FIBA U18 event, dropping 35 on Team Canada (on 9-of-12 long-range shooting). Rivers is a killer three-point shooter off the dribble, using a crossover/step-back combo to create space for his shot or get into the lane, where he's a fluid finisher. On numerous occasions, he reminded me of a Davidson-era Stephen Curry.
Doc Rivers follows his sons' hoops careers so actively that on at least 11 Celtics off-days this season, he jumped on a private jet following practice, flew to Florida for Austin's games, and then back to Boston the same night. The proud father was a mainstay in the stands at St. Mary's University, even on the day it was announced he was returning to the Celtics for another year. As a career 32.8 percent three-point shooter in the NBA, he would not take credit for Austin's form.
"If I had taught him how to shoot, he wouldn't be able to shoot." Doc said. "Austin developed his own little shot and style, and I remember looking at it three years ago and saying, 'It goes in -- I'm not touching it.'"
Austin has honed his shot in the gym at Rollins College, near the Rivers' home in Winter Park, Fla. The coach there, Tom Klusman, lets Rivers use the gym for training each evening, but alas, Rivers will not be playing for Rollins. By the end of the summer he might be ranked the No. 1 overall player in the Class of 2011. So where will he go to school?
• Rivers appears to like Duke -- a lot. He was once committed to Florida, but is now viewed as heavily leaning toward the Blue Devils. Strong evidence of that: When he emerged from the U.S. locker room after Wednesday's win over Brazil, in which he scored 19 points, he was wearing his gold medal over a Duke 2009-10 national champions T-shirt. And he was wearing a pair of official Duke shorts. He said not to read too much into it, but how can you not?
I asked Irving if he had any influence over Rivers' wardrobe, given how well they played off of each other this week, and the prospect of them comprising the most lethal college backcourt in 2011-12. "Honestly?" Irving said. "Those are [Rivers'] shorts, those are his choice to wear them. That's all him."
• Irving, whom I'd only seen in all-star game settings prior to this, was such an effective leader in crunch time against Brazil -- igniting a U.S. rally and finishing with 25 points and 10 rebounds -- that I don't think he'll have much of a learning curve at Duke. As Florida recruit Patric Young, Irving's co-captain, said, "He's just a natural-born point guard." After getting firsthand looks at new Blue Devils Irving and Seth Curry (at CP3 Elite camp) over a three-week span, I'm even more confident that Duke -- and not Michigan State or Purdue -- is the right pick for preseason No. 1.
• Blue is a four-star recruit who came into the FIBA tourney with less name-recognition than Irving, and a four-star (rather than five) rating. But it became clear rather quickly that Blue is an elite combo guard. He's an explosive wing player with a slashing ability and a slick pull-up jumper, and he's great a jumping passing lanes on D and getting out in transition. As I tweeted earlier in the week, I can't remember the last time my home state of Wisconsin produced a hoops athlete of his caliber -- and I can understand why there was such controversy in the state over him switching his commitment from Wisconsin to Marquette. The Golden Eagles will have a future pro in their backcourt this season.
•The extensive backcourt minutes played by the Irving-Rivers-Blue crew -- as well as Illinois-bound Jereme Richmond -- meant that the lone player with college experience on the roster, Washington's Abdul Gaddy, was mostly left on the bench. He saw only four minutes of action against Brazil in the title game. Prior to the tournament, Gaddy had talked about using the FIBA experience as a way to get his "swagger" back after a disappointing freshman year with Washington. He came to UW as a five-star point guard, but averaged just 3.9 points (on 15.0 percent long-range shooting) and 2.3 assists last season. I'll have more on Gaddy next week; he certainly still has potential to be a good college point guard once he finds a way to regain the free-and-easy style that made him so effective in high school, but I don't think he had the opportunity to get his swag back in San Antonio.
• Richmond's length and defensive tenacity were such assets that Capel used the Waukegan, Ill., product to contain Brazil's brilliant point guard, Raul Neto, when neither Irving, Blue, Rivers or Gaddy could keep Neto out of the lane late in the gold medal game. At 6-7, Richmond is so versatile that I saw him defend four different positions during the tournament. He also has a crazy streak (staring down his man, talking trash, complaining to refs), though, that might needed to be reined in at Illinois in order for him to blossom into a team leader and Big Ten star.