Wednesday, May 22, 2024

How future Rutgers stars Dylan Harper, Ace Bailey performed for Team USA at Nike Hoop Summit

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PORTLAND — After Team USA won the opening tip, Dylan Harper got the ball at midcourt, faked a pass, then bounced the ball to Ace Bailey. The 6-foot-8 forward took a dribble toward the top of the key and popped up for a midrange jumper over the extended arm of A.J. Dybantsa, another elite prospect playing at the Moda Center on Saturday night.

Just like that, the future Rutgers teammates combined for the opening bucket of a back-and-forth affair. In the end, the duo helped Team USA defeat the World Team, 98-75, at the 25th annual Nike Hoop Summit, the latest showcase event for Harper and Bailey to preview things to come in Piscataway next winter.

The duo did not shine quite as brightly as they did in Houston last week, when Harper was named the co-MVP of the McDonald’s All-America game, but they each put in a strong performance in the city of Roses.

After being included in the starting line-up, each of them scored 14 points — Bailey on 6-of-15 shooting, Harper on a 4-of-11 clip — and played a part in Team USA outrebounding its opponent by 22, with Bailey grabbing six boards and Harper grabbing seven. The Don Bosco Prep star, named the National Player of the Year by MaxPreps earlier in the week, also added three assists, three steals and three turnovers in 29 minutes of action; Bailey had two steals and two turnovers in 27 minutes.

“Scoring is not all of it, rebounds are a big part of the game,” Harper said. “If you can control the glass, most of the time, you can win basketball games. … For me, being a guard, they’re not looking for me to go rebounding. (The bigs are) boxing out their own man. Having that free reign to go, knowing that if I can get the rebound, I can push (the ball) myself and make opportunities not just for me, but for my teammates.”

Harper had highlights on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he took over for a stretch in the second quarter, getting to the rim at will on three consecutive possessions. After beating his defender off the dribble each time, he scored 5 points — one lay-up and three free throws — and set up center Jayden Quaintance. Harper also knocked down his only three-point attempt in the contest, set up teammates for multiple baskets, hit all five of his free throw attempts and commanded the offense well when serving as the primary ball-handler.

On the other end, Harper showed plenty of hustle, diving for loose balls and keying in on his defensive assignments. He was eventually tasked with guarding Dybantsa, a matchup he asked for and relished. He put in a solid effort against the top player in the 2025 class and arguably the best player in high school basketball last winter, marked by a moment in which Harper stopped the Prolific Prep star in his tracks in transition, blocking his shot before stealing the ball.

“Just doing whatever I got to do to win,” Harper said of asking for the assignment. “I think that was the main thing for me. (Head coach Sharman White) made it a key that, we’re out here not to play for just us, but we’re playing to win. … So for me, just going after it with that mindset, I see who was hot, so I took on the challenge of stopping it.”

Dybantsa took a similar approach in guarding Harper, particularly in the first half.

“In the first half, he was getting into it, so I took the pride to guard him,” Dybantsa said. “He’s a great player, and great players match up with other great players. So him taking (the assignment) defensively to guard me, everybody wants to bump, everybody wants good smoke. So us matching up together was just what the crowd wanted to see.”

As usual, Bailey gave the crowd of 4,926 fans a show by himself, demonstrating more flashes of the immense potential he is just scratching the surface of. He took a number of difficult shots and hit couple of them, including a stepback three off the dribble to cap off the second quarter in which he slid halfway down the floor as the ball went into the net.

Bailey would save his best for the fourth quarter, when he hit a three-pointer off the catch in the right corner and threw down a vicious dunk over 6-foot-10 center Ulrich Chomche after making a smart cut to the basket.

By the final buzzer, the future Rutgers duo combined for 28 points, 13 rebounds, five steals and three assists. They were taken off for a curtain call with 2:08 remaining, plenty of time to celebrate some more USA baskets and joke around from their spots on the bench.

After the game concluded, Harper and Bailey signed autographs and taking pictures with the eager young fans that stuck around before heading for the postgame celebration in the locker room.

“I want to follow them to college and just sit on the bench, be a little fly on the wall and just watch their careers,” White said, “because they got some really great careers ahead of them.”

For Harper and Bailey, their next stop is Piscataway, where those walls will bounce and the paint chips may fall from the ceiling of Jersey Mike’s Arena if they bring the success they had in the Pacific Northwest back to New Jersey.

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Brian Fonseca may be reached at bfonseca@njadvancemedia.com.

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