OSU's Turner, Purdue's Hummel shine at national team trials
With the size and skills of an NBA forward, Evan Turner was an NBA scout favorite
While Robbie Hummel played well, his lower back injury still lingers
With an ability to create his shot, Seth Curry looks a lot like ... Steph Curry
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.
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