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John Calipari tries to pick, mold U.S. U19 men's hoops team

June 18, 2017 Updated: June 18, 2017 at 10:43 pm
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The future stars of basketball are in Colorado Springs trying to earn the right to wear U.S.A. across their chest.

The U.S. under-19 men's basketball team, coached by Kentucky's John Calipari, are having tryouts this week to determine the 12 members of this year's team. The list of talent that has been a part of this squad in year's past is phenomenal.

Former NBA MVP Steph Curry was on the roster in 2007. Gordon Hayward, who was a 2017 NBA All-Star, donned the colors back in 2009. And projected lottery picks in this year's NBA draft, Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum, were on the team back in 2015.

"It's one of those things that's an honor to have an opportunity but then I look at all these really good players, and have a chance to work with these kids and the best thing is you have 27 guys going at each other," Calipari said. "Throw it up and let's go play. ... There are some veterans that have competed but there are some young kids here too that have competed."

The tryout consists of 27 participants, ranging from 13 athletes who recently completed their first year of college to eight rising college freshmen to six rising high school seniors. And of those 27 players, most of them are projected to be future lottery or first-round draft picks. In fact, there is one participant who could have gone in the first round this year.

"It was a long process," said Kentucky guard Hamidou Diallo on his decision to pull out of the NBA draft. "I'm just glad I made the best decision for me."

Diallo, who is one of the 13 athletes who completed their freshman year of college, participated in the NBA combine and was expected to go in the mid-teens to late first round. He got the experience of partaking in the combine along with being on the 2016 U-18 squad.

The 6-foot-5, 190-pound guard wants to go out and show Calipari and his staff the type of player he is, show them how much he has improved his skills and knowledge of the game. However, Calipari said Diallo looked sloppy in the first practice.

One of Calipari's incoming freshman Wildcats had a solid day. Kevin Knox II, who was considered a top-10 recruit in this past year's class and is projected to be a lottery pick in next year's draft, had a good day according to his future college coach.

While some of the college athletes impressed, so did some of the rising high school seniors.

Romeo Langford, Cameron Reddish, Immanuel Quickley and Bol Bol (son of former NBA player Maunte Bol) are four of the top-10 prospects in the class of 2018, according to 247Sports. All four are already projected to go in the lottery in 2019. And all of them, especially Langford, continued to grow throughout practice.

"All the young kids competed, they weren't afraid," Calipari said. "I thought early on, Romeo kind of deferred a little bit and then he got into doing his thing. But then all young kids did."

Although it may be hard for Calipari to determine who makes the cut, it will come down to conditioning. As Calipari put it, "If you aren't in shape, you aren't making this team." And as of right now, there are no clubhouse leaders for him.

"What I may do, is be excited about a guy and then watch him in two sessions tomorrow and again, you have to sustain this and show who you are," Calipari said. "Over a period, you can be like this and this. Over a period of time you are going to show us who you are."

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