HOUSTON — The final 12 members of Team USA’s under-18 basketball team were summoned to the hotel balcony late Tuesday in what must’ve felt like made-for-TV drama.
Texas freshmen Jarrett Allen and James Banks had no choice but to follow along.
“It felt like an episode of The Bachelor,” Banks said. “Every episode of The Bachelor, you walk outside and there are 12 chairs. You see a Gatorade over there. Yo, I got a rose. I live to see another week.
“Once you make it to that point, you know what’s going on,” Banks added. “You don’t have to wait for the coaches. It was a great feeling to be able to call my mom and tell her I made the team. She’s so proud, my family’s really proud of me.”
The so-called “Fro Bros” are going global. Allen and Banks, two Longhorns who will see extensive playing time this coming season, are headed to Valdivia, Chile, with coach Shaka Smart, who leads both the UT and the U18 squads. All three hope to win five games at the FIBA Americas U18 championship and come home with a gold medal.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect situation, but it’s going to help (Texas) a lot more,” said Allen, who checked off an important personal goal by playing for USA Basketball. “Seeing the 11 guys around me made me think, ‘You’re on another level.’ ”
The team will practice Thursday and Friday at Houston Strake Jesuit and then leave for Chile on Friday night.
Asked about traveling internationally, Allen said, “I’m not a picky eater, but I heard out of the country they eat bugs and stuff. I tried bugs before. My Spanish teacher had crickets, but no, I wasn’t a fan. It had some seasoning on it.”
If the hotel in Shanghai, China, made eggs, bacon and doughnuts available to the Longhorns last season, the under-18 squad probably will have access to a Western-style breakfast in South America, too. “I’ll stick with my bacon,” Allen said with a laugh.
The final U18 team features some of the most talented amateur players in the nation. As an added bonus for Smart, many haven’t decided where they’ll go to college. Seven U18 players in the 2017 recruiting class rank among the top 26 in the United States, according to 247sports’ composite rankings.
Several players, like guard Matt Coleman and forward P.J. Washington are considering Texas, among other schools. Smart will get extended time with those players during practices and the five games, which are played under international rules.
All games will be streamed online via YouTube. Team USA’s first preliminary-round game — against Puerto Rico — is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“The summer of your freshman year is all about getting acclimated to a new level of play and getting yourself ready to be successful as a freshman in college,” Smart said. “They’ll get a chance to play against some very good competition, both in practice and in five games overseas.”
In the six weeks since joining forces at Texas, Allen and Banks already have formed a unique bond, Smart said. Fans will see how different their personalities are when the season begins in November.
Allen, who loves video games and watching old episodes of The Twilight Zone, is extremely reserved. Banks, who didn’t start playing organized basketball until his freshman year in high school, can be the life of the party.
“Our relationship has been growing and growing,” Allen said. “I feel like I keep him under control sometimes. He starts getting wild so much, and I bring him back down.”
UT fans will love Banks’ confidence.
“I want to smack everybody in the Big 12,” Banks said. “Nobody plans on losing. When I’m in the gym and working out with the GAs, working out with coach Smart or looking at film, I’m not planning on this being an OK year. I’m planning on going out there and bust their (butts).”
Multiple times last season, Smart lamented the fact that his first team lacked a killer instinct. He wanted players with more edge, more nastiness. Banks has that in spades. So does Allen, although you won’t hear him crow about it.
When the trio returns from Chile, expect their sole focus to be centered on the Longhorns.
“Very different personality-wise,” Smart said. “They’re guys that have different ways about them, but they get along really well. They complement each other really well.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.