The U.S. men’s basketball team dropped its second straight game at the FIBA championships and the excuses are flying.
Of course, the No. 1 alibi is that we didn’t send our best players. And that’s true. The best of the NBA would rather wait for a chance at an Olympic medal than waste a summer chasing a championship that didn’t even find its way to network television in this country. And I don’t blame them.
But it’s not as if we didn’t send very good players to China for this tournament. Only Mason Plumlee on this roster was not an NBA starter and there was a projected NBA payroll of $265 million for these guys.
Sorry, but no other team over there could feature talent of that magnitude.
So let me take a different path of trying to explain this problem. For one thing, doesn’t it seem that very few of our international teams have enough outside shooting to take advantage of the international three-point line? For years, other countries have sagged off in some form of zone defense as our teams struggled to make outside shots and couldn’t execute zone-breakers that some high-school teams can handle.
Yes, I think the selection process has been flawed for a long time, still enamored with spectacular dunkers and drivers, rather than pure shooters – even if they aren’t among the league’s high-priced endorsers.
And one other thing, how does Gregg Popovich escape unscathed? Why is there never any criticism of how he handled the team’s preparation or roster? Apparently Pop the Great is above all that.
He certainly couldn’t find many answers with this team, other than using smaller and smaller lineups. I don’t think Team USA was prepared for the situation. And that usually falls on the coach, doesn’t it?
It was announced yesterday that moving forward the NCAA will now allow “elite” college prospects to sign with agents and give them the ability to return to college if they are not selected in the NBA Draft. At first glance, the new rules is a victory for student-athletes, but is it really?
As multiple media personalities have pointed out, this moves seems more like a PR stunt than a step in the right direction. The NCAA is all about amateurism, and it wants to protect that at all costs.
Let's outline some of the key points of this new rule:
- This rule does not apply to all college basketball players. It only applies to those deemed “elite.” The job of deciding who is elite and who isn’t falls on the back of USA Basketball. The interesting part here is that it appears that USA Basketball didn’t agree to, nor does it want this responsibility. According to an article by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, “USA Basketball doesn't have the infrastructure or interest in accepting the role of evaluating the nation's top prospects… USA Basketball prefers that the NBA make those decisions”
- The problem here is that it also appears the neither the NBA or the NBPA has agreed to this new rule. The NCAA more or less went over the heads of the NBA, burdening them and USA Basketball with tasks they had not formally agreed to. While discussions have been had, there was never a general consensus moving forward with regards to a rule change.
- Of the few this rule will impact, even fewer will actually take advantage of it. Many players who go undrafted will try to land with teams overseas, teams in the G-League, or land a roster spot in the NBA Summer League. Few, if any, will actually return to college. As Wojnarowski pointed out on Twitter, if you are undrafted now odds are you will undrafted a year from now as well. Why prolong becoming a professional?
In short, the rule seems nice on the outside but in the end it falls short of having any real substance to it. If the outcome with the rule is the same as the outcome without it (go undrafted, play overseas for example) what does the rule really change? Perhaps it changes the public perception of the NCAA. A pat on the back of sorts; a “look what we did for our athletes” moment. Until the NBA/NBPA and USA Basketball are on board, and until you allow this rule to help all athletes, not just the elite ones, you haven’t done anything.
As another Olympics draws near and if you have any interest in basketball, I want to highly recommend you take a look at this exhaustive piece that NBC has put together -- an oral history of the rebuilding of the USA Basketball system.
You probably won't get through the whole thing in one sitting -- it's a very long read. But I'm going to tell you I think it's worth your time. It took some relatively embarrassing defeats to put this country's national team program back on track and this is the story of how it all went together, including a look at a couple of mismatched teams and coaches that caused serious changes in the way we chose our national teams.
A lot of this is inside stuff and candid commentary, including this about that disastrous, mismatched team that Larry Brown tried to coach:
(Stu) Jackson: Larry Brown was consulted on the team and I can remember in some specific situations, some concerns about certain players were expressed and about their addition to the team. But, I can tell you that those additions to the team would not be made without the understanding that a coach would support the team that he was given.
"To me, it was simple: They picked the wrong coach at the time."
You really need to read this, if for no other reason than to get to the very end in order to find out which player has the chance this year to become the most decorated USA Olympic basketball player of all time.