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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 for.
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 team.
Does Stepp, the 2002-03 West Coast Conference player of the year, use that missed shot against Arizona as a motivator? "Nab," he says. "I watched that game on ESPN Classic once; I don't think I need to watch it again."
One court over from Izzo's auditions, Oregon coach Ernie Kent was seeking a few good big men for the Junior World Championships in Thessalon�ki, 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 83 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.
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