Hosted in Washington D.C., the Challenge includes four regional teams primarily with Nike prospects versus four international squads from Pan-Africa, Brazil, Canada and France. The event kicked off on Thursday and will conclude with a gold medal game on Saturday afternoon.
Ohio State-bound guard D'Angelo Russell notched the most impressive performance on day one. Russell struggled big-time at spring events but has come alive this month, including 30 points on 13-19 shooting for the USA South team versus Pan-Africa in his Thursday night outing.
Russell spearheaded an effort that includes three Tobacco Road recruits in the starting lineup: Theo Pinson, Joel Berry and Grayson Allen. Alex Owens started at center and came within one bucket of a double-double (10 points, eight rebounds). The question for the South — which defeated Pan-Africa 103-87 — is whether they have the size to hold up against larger opponents.
Africa's most heralded player is Cheick Diallo, but it was Malik Abdul-Abu who stood out with a 22 point-outing versus the South.
Brazil appears to be overmatched, and the USA Midwest squad crushed them 99-55. James Blackmon led the way with 20 points on a highly efficient 9-13 field goals, and he took (and made) only on three-pointer. He's generally considered a specialist and thus the high percentage of two-point attempts indicates the nature of the Midwest's easy shots and overall whipping.
Chris McCullough seized the reigns for the East. The Syracuse pledge averaged 17 points in two games and shot 12-16 in the two games. He's simply too tall and athletic for most internationals, who in some cases aren't accustomed to that kind of length and quickness.
The USA West team may be the most talented. That squad features elites such as Stanley Johnson, Justin Jackson, Elijah Thomas, Ivan Rabb and Daniel Hamilton, and they used a balanced attack to win two games on Thursday. If they can receive solid point guard play from Lourawls Nairn and Allonzo Trier, they could be too much for the rest of the field.