HILLSBORO, Ore. -- Serbia was up comfortably 49-41 at halftime and controlling the tempo, then the No. 1 player in the country took over. Harrison Barnes (Ames, Iowa) scored 36 points in the second half. When the final horn sounded he had a mesmerizing 46-point, 14-rebound performance to his credit, as Team Midwest advanced to the fifth-place game in the Nike Global Challenge.
While evaluating each game and trying to come up with a surprise performance, I decided to go with two outstanding performers because 6-foot-2 Kyrie Irving (Elizabeth, N.J./St. Patrick) was just too good to overlook.
After Brazil had taken early control of its semifinal matchup with USA East, Irving checked in, and the whole complexion of the game changed in a few possessions. He put on a clinic at the point guard position in the first half; he set up numerous teammates for easy baskets. While the game remained very tight until the last few minutes, Irving -- along with Josh Selby (Baltimore/Lake Clifton) and Tobias Harris (Dix Hill, N.Y./Half Hollow Hills West) -- made all the key plays down the stretch to preserve the victory over a well-coached and talented Brazilian squad.
To say Barnes willed his team to victory is an understatement. The top player in the 2010 ESPNU 100 dominated at both ends with his scoring prowess and defensive savvy. His jump shot was pure, as he drained 6 of 13 behind the stripe. In addition, he showed a deceptively quick burst to the basket as he finished consistently at the rim. Despite his scoring outburst, the most impressive attribute of his game was his mental approach. He single-handedly was involved with almost every play at both ends. He had a plethora of big-time rebounds in traffic, especially on the offensive end. Furthermore, he had a number of defensive deflections (including four steals) and a handful of electrifying blocks. Barnes might not be the most explosive prospect in the country, but he is certainly the best basketball player.
After a quiet July, Irving has been nothing short of spectacular at this event. He is the quintessential point guard for the next level. He has ideal size and explosive athleticism to boot. In the open court, he changes direction as well as any point guard in the class, and his decision-making for the most part was impressive. While his team was struggling to get any offense going, Irving checked in and ran the offense with aplomb. He handled the Brazilian pressure with poise and confidence and made a number of efficient plays to get his team running smoothly on the offensive end. In addition, he did the best job of all the guards of pressuring the ball and taking the Brazilians out of their motion offense. He can knock down 3-point shots with regularity or explode to the rim for a strong finish. If Team USA defeats Canada in the championship you might see a replay of last year, when Abdul Gaddy and Avery Bradley were named co-MVPs. However, this time around it will be Selby and Irving.
Rivers breaks out
Austin Rivers (Winter Park, Fla.) broke out of a mild slump, burying a number of shots (5-of-8) behind the arc. However, through two games, I'm not sure if he's as dynamic as his reputation. He doesn't have a great burst off the bounce and can't explode to the rim. In addition, on the defensive side of the ball he doesn't slide his feet very well.
Passing the test
North Carolina commit Kendall Marshall (Arlington, Va./Bishop O'Connell) continued to demonstrate he's the best passing point guard in the country for his class. He had a number of assists that were spectacular.
Terrence Jones (Portland, Ore./Jefferson) put together a nice performance displaying his versatile game. He needs to post up more often to utilize his imposing physique, but he can face up and get to the rim or hand out a nifty assist. However, his jump shot, more like a set shot, needs polishing due to a slow release.
Gonzaga got a good one in 6-4 Mangisto Arop. He has a solid-looking frame and he can really fill it up from the 3-point line, especially in a catch-and-shoot set. His shot is smooth, and he isn't afraid to get physical on the inside (14 rebounds).
If 6-1 Junior Cadougan plans to make an immediate impact at Marquette in the 2009-10 season, he'll need to get into better shape. The extra weight he's carrying is hindering his performance at both ends. His skill and shot-making ability (1 of 12 from the field) have deteriorated since the regular season, and he's struggling to stay in front of other guards.
A rising star
Although it won't show up in the box score, 6-5 junior Adonis Thomas (Memphis, Tenn./Melrose) is a budding star in the making. Besides his strength and bounce, Thomas has a high basketball IQ and an ever-improving skill set. He needs to get better off the dribble, but his jump shot is coming around, and he's an outstanding rebounder and passer.
Clark coming on
The unsung hero for USA Midwest was 6-6 Cameron Clark (Sherman, Texas). The smooth 3-point shooter plays the game at both ends with purpose. He has the frame, and the savvy, to be an excellent defender at the next level.
He doesn't get much notoriety, but 5-11 Juwan Staten is a terrific pickup for the Dayton Flyers. He has a solid-looking frame, deceptive speed and quickness and a high basketball IQ. He changes direction very well in transition and is a pinpoint passer. His jump shot needs refining, but the other aspects of his game are high-level.
Selby continues shining
There might not be a stronger individual with the ball than 6-3 Josh Selby (Baltimore/Lake Clifton). He's an absolute beast in the open court and can explode over most bigs to finish at the rim. His decision-making can be questionable and he needs to learn how to get open without the ball in the half-court set, but he is a major talent nonetheless.
Joel Francisco covers basketball recruiting for Scouts Inc.