What would Team USA look like if it only used college players?
By now, everyone has heard about -- if not seen -- the brutal injury that Indiana Pacers star Paul George suffered in a Team USA scrimmage that was played to help Mike Krzyzewski figure out who will be on the squad that will play in the Basketball World Cup later this month.
One of the major talking points after that injury was whether or not professionals should be allowed to play in major international basketball competitions, or if we should send our nation’s best collegiate players overseas to participate.
That got us to thinking: If collegiate players were to make up our national team, what would that team look like? Three notes: Karl Towns plays with the Dominican team so he was not considered; Buddy Hield is Bahamian so he was eliminated as well; and Emmanuel Mudiay’s eligibility for our team was erased when he decided against playing college basketball. Otherwise, he would have likely been our starting point guard.
Here is the roster that we came up with:
G Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Paige is a lock to make this team -- he might be the NCAA Preseason Player of the Year -- but I do have my reservations when it comes Paige playing as a full-time point guard. He’s a scorer at heart. But it’s impossible to ignore what Paige did late last season, as he would run UNC’s offense until the moment they needed him to take the game over. Few can score like Paige can when he gets into a rhythm.
G Caris LeVert, Michigan: To think that LeVert is even in a position to be considered for this spot is nuts given where he came from, but he’s earned it. LeVert is a 6-foot-6 guard that can hit threes and is capable of creating in ball-screen situations. He’s not as complete of a player as Ron Baker is, but he’s a better scorer and individual creator.
F Stanley Johnson, Arizona: Johnson is just such a complete player. He can defend anywhere on the floor, he can run an offense if he needs to, he can hit a three and score in the post, he’ll rebound the ball. Johnson may be our small forward in this situation, and he’s may only be a freshman, but he’s strong enough and physical enough to hold his own against the pros at his position.
F Sam Dekker, Wisconsin: We decided to go a bit smaller with our starting lineup for a couple reasons. On the one hand, Johnson is physical enough that he can help make up for some of Dekker’s deficiencies. But Dekker has also grown this summer, and the now-6-foot-9 forward can play the kind of stretch four role you see in European hoops. What he lacks in post strength he can make up for by creating a mismatch on the offensive end.
C Jahlil Okafor, Duke: Okafor is probably the best low post scorer in college basketball, and he’s not even in college basketball yet. He’s also got the size and strength to help the USA matchup with the massive Spanish front line that includes both Gasol brothers. Given that we will be using Dekker as a stretch four, Okafor gets the initial start over Kaminsky as he is the more physically imposing presence in the paint.
- Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State: I’m not sure there is a better point guard in the country than Van Vleet. He’s a calming presence and a leader that doesn’t get rattled. He’d likely push for a starting spot if this was the real world.
- Ron Baker, Wichita State: We had a long debate over whether to include Baker or Chasson Randle and I made the decision to go with Baker. He can shoot the three and he can play both guard positions, but more importantly, he’s 6-foot-4 and can defend either guard position.
- R.J. Hunter, Georgia State: We wanted to make sure that we had a sharpshooter somewhere on our roster, and I’m not sure there is a better pure shooter in the country than Hunter.
- Georges Niang, Iowa State: Niang is a matchup nightmare given his ability to handle the ball and score in the high-post and mid-post. He’s the perfect four-man for the European game.
- Perry Ellis, Kansas: I’m not sure just how much playing time Ellis would get in this scenario. He’s not as big as Okafor or Kaminsky, he’s not as versatile offensively as Niang, he’s not the rebounder or defender Harrell is. But Ellis can flat out play, and that was enough for him to make the cut.
- Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: We needed an overpowering athlete on the roster and we decided to go with Harrell over Cliff Alexander. Harrell just plays so damn hard, and he’s added a better post and face-up game than he gets credit for.
- Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: I’ve wondered just how much of Kaminsky’s success is a result of his actual ability and how much of it is a product of Bo Ryan’s ability to get the most out of his big men. The answer is irrelevant, however, as Kaminsky is a good fit as a big man in Europe. He can shoot, he can put the ball on the floor, and he’s got some back to the basket moves. He may end up beating Okafor out for a starting spot, but Kaminsky will be a major factor for this team.