Mid July to late October is a tough time for basketball fans. Free agency has stalled, summer league has concluded and now all we can do is wait till pre-season starts. Right now the Pan American games are going on and we are all watching, cause everyone actually knows what those are. The Pan American games are similar to the Olympics but only for the nations in the North and South American continents along with neighboring countries. It is quite entertaining for summer sports since the only thing of regularity on TV is baseball. One event taking place is basketball. Making an appearance is our very own Team USA. The team is lead by Gonzaga head coach Mark Few and is predominantly made up of college players and the throw-ins of failed NBA players such as Damien Wilkins, Ryan Hollins and Anthony Randolph. The team has only played a few games but as always the United States dominates in the sport of basketball. Watching the team play really made me think about the future of American basketball and how our nation’s team will shape out in the future.
Last summer was the FIBA World Cup, not to be confused with the way more popular and exciting FIFA World Cup, and as expected the United States swept the competition. (This was the event that resulted in Paul George’s horrific leg injury) But it wasn’t the results of the games that drew my attention and curiosity but who the team’s roster was consisted of. It was a young and talented roster but lacked veteran experience outside of Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose. It wasn’t until 1992 that the United States was allowed to use professional athletes as a part of the national team. In prior history the team’s roster was generally consisted of collegiate athletes. In ’92, the United States compiled a super team that would forever be engraved into the history books as the Dream Team, starring the NBA’s all time greats in the likes Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The team would dominate the competition and would continue to this trend up until 2002. The 2002 team had so much potential but tragically came in 5th in the World Cup. The 2004 Olympics proved catastrophic as it was the first time in the pro ball Olympic era and the second time in history the United States finished with bronze and not a gold medal. We won’t discuss the 1972 Olympics but here is a link if you want to read up:(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1972_Olympic_Men%27s_Basketball_Final). The team would go on to loose embarrassingly to Argentina and then two years later receive bronze in the World Cup as well.
These continued failures created a realization in us that winning in the international realm is much more difficult then assembling an all-star lineup. Due to the disappointing losses in the 2002 and 2006 FIBA World Championships and the 2004 Olympics, the United States appointed Jerry Colangelo to become the Director of United States Basketball. Colangelo was the former General Manager of Phoenix Suns upon their induction into the league and was the youngest GM in league history. His sole job was to create teams to consistently win gold medals in the Olympics and other international tournaments. He appointed legendary college coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke to be the head-coach of the team. Jerry Colangelo made his selected players to commit to be apart of the international organization for three years. (For Olympics and Worlds) He has also instituted tryouts for players in order to make the best possible teams based on not just talent alone but also on chemistry and need. Since Colangelo took over in 2005 the US has won four gold medals, two Olympic and two World Championships. Colangelo unveiled his masterpiece in 2008 and the so-called “Redeem Team” took Beijing by storm. The team was led by veterans Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd and highlighted at the time with emerging superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard. In their first attempt the “Redeem Team” went undefeated took home a gold medal. Colangelo has had teams lead by Kevin Durant, James Harden, Steph Curry and Anthony Davis.
Personally I really enjoy watching our nation play. Some could see it as a great spectral that our nation has been so dominant in the sport for so long. Others may see it as a travesty at the fault of the international level’s lack of equal performance. And yes I agree that it would be nice to have some competition at this elite level, but in many scenarios foreign elite athletes no longer play due to a fear of injury.
Anyways the point is that there is a lot more than one would think into putting together a squad. The United States begins its talent evaluation of players at a very young age. They have a first hand look into the future of our nation’s talent. Teams as early as the U17 teams are being put together and actually compete across the globe.
I mentioned Paul George’s injury earlier in the post not to remind us about the gruesome injury but as it actually sparked a conversation around the league. It have caused a chain reaction that may have changed international basketball for good. As we all know the 2013-2014 season for Paul George was a significant one. He emerged as one of the best players let alone young players in the league. His injury saddening may actually have created some good. As a result Kevin Durant withdrew from the team and left an interesting group of talent behind. The team was headlined by Steph Curry, James Harden and Anthony Davis. Today we see these players as the elite of the league as Curry was MVP and Harden was runner up but you have to remember where these players were a year ago. All three of them were emerging talents but they were not the players they are today. James Harden was heavily criticized for his lack of defense and Curry was at the time just purely know as a three point shooter. After their time with Team USA they have both materialized into complete superstars. This is no coincidence either. Flash back to the 2010 FIBA Championships, the team was heavily comprised of young talent especially in the forms of Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant. Derrick Rose went on to become the youngest NBA MVP in league history the following year while Kevin Durant threw himself into the conversation of NBA superiority right alongside Lebron James. In 2012 Russell Westbrook broke out as one of the NBA’s top scorers and along with James Harden and Kevin Durant (both played on the Olympic team together) lead the Thunder to its first NBA Finals. I could go on and continue to point out the breakout seasons players have had since joining Team USA but that is besides the point.
The Paul George tragedy should have put a damper on the development on the American National team but it in fact this has just continued to bolster the talent and value that our nation would produce. Many were expecting the injury to have forced the National team from attracting the league’s top talent and instead be constructed of younger and unproven players. But in a twist of events, in the upcoming weeks, 41 of the top Americans in the NBA are heading to Vegas to begin preparations for the Rio Olympics in 2016. The minicamp invitations include players such as Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, James Harden and Blake Griffin. Even Paul George will attempt to pursue his dream of representing this great nation after suffering a compound leg fracture last summer. The talent seems to be representative of what this country is known for and it hasn’t come at a better time. A real threat to the American domination has presented itself. Canada has produced talent that is set to rival Team USA by the time the summer of 2016 comes around more significantly in the next 10 years. Highlighted by young players such as Andrew Wiggins and Tristan Thompson, Canada has some real significant talent and prospects that could compete with the world’s best. Within the next few years we will see some real talented players that could easily command the NBA’s elite. Prospects to watch are Thon Maker, a 7’1 ft forward with the ball handling and scoring abilities of Kevin Durrant, and Jamal Murray, an upcoming Kentucky freshman guard that dropped 22 points in 15 minutes against the American Pan American team last week. I will continue this breakdown at a later date when the Olympics get closer, but to remind us about how talented the Americans are, just watch the video in the link: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMrPjl-927Q)