Team USA training camp began today on UNLV’s campus ahead of the 2019 FIBA World Cup, which launches Aug. 31, with 16 players set to compete for the 12 spots on the roster that will compete in China.
In the last couple of days, there have been some changes to the training camp lineup, with Andre Drummond and Montrezl Harrell withdrawing Thursday and Bam Adebayo filling one of the open positions, the most recent of several late alterations. Many NBA stars have turned down invites to the camp, including James Harden, Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard. That’s not what Team USA Managing Director Jerry Colangelo is talking about, though.
“I like to keep the focus on who is there, not on who’s not there,” Colangelo told The New York Times.
With that in mind, let’s look at who will be in attendance in Las Vegas this week:
Team USA Roster
Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors, hometown of Philadelphia, PA, age 33)
Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz, hometown of Elmsford, NY, age 22)
Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics, hometown of Flower Mound, TX, age 25)
Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics, hometown of Bronx, NY, age 29)
Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings, hometown of Ames, IA, age 27)
Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics, hometown of Alpharetta, GA, age 22)
Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers, hometown of Flint, MI, age 24)
Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks, hometown of Charleston, SC, age 27)
Julius Randle (New York Knicks, hometown of Plano, TX, age 24)
Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics, hometown of St. Louis, MO, age 21)
P.J. Tucker (Houston Rockets, hometown of Raleigh, NC, age 34)
Thaddeus Young (Chicago Bulls, hometown of Memphis, TN, age 31)
Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat, hometown of High Point, NC, age 22)
Brook Lopez (Milwaukee Bucks, hometown of Fresno, CA, age 31)
Mason Plumlee (Denver Nuggets, hometown of Warsaw, IN, age 29)
Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers, hometown of Bedford, TX, age 23)
Head Coach – Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs)
Assistant Coach – Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors)
Assistant Coach – Lloyd Pierce (Atlanta Hawks)
Assistant Coach – Jay Wright (Villanova Wildcats)
This will be head coach Gregg Popovich’s first major tournament as the boss of Team USA after assuming the position in 2017, replacing Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, who held the role since 2006. In a similar vein, there isn’t much carryover from the gold medal winning team at the 2016 Rio Olympics; Kyle Lowry and Harrison Barnes are the only members of that squad who will appear at this camp.
With plenty of major names removing themselves from consideration, Popovich and his staff have put together a group of fresh faces, both in international experience and age. All but four of the 16 players are in their 20s, and the average age for the camp is 26.5. This injection of youth is likely for multiple reasons: more equipped to deal with the grueling nature of large, quick tournaments like the World Cup, better at handling the physicality of the international game, an attempt to foster loyalty and connections with tomorrow’s superstars today, and a chance to give younger guys looks a year ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. While Popovich will surely take a few of the camp’s veterans to China, some of the first players on the chopping block will probably be in their 30s.
Even without the clout players like James Harden and Anthony Davis would have brought to the roster, there’s still an immense amount of talent available to Popovich and his staff. Kemba Walker is an All-NBA point guard, Donovan Mitchell showed himself to be a fantastic scorer for the Jazz in the latest postseason, Khris Middleton was a vital part of Milwaukee’s regular season success and run to the Eastern Conference Finals, and Andre Drummond has been a premier rebounder in the NBA for a handful of years.
Still, there are reasonable concerns about this team as the rest of the world chips away at America’s domination in the basketball world. More and more international stars have emerged in the last several years and will act as thorns in Team USA’s side in its quest for another world title. For example, in the very realistic scenario that the United States has to deal with Serbia, Popovich will have to manage Serbia’s Nikola Jokic, who has solidified himself as one of the best big men in the world, with deadly distribution and scoring skills that can stretch a defense thin. Team USA’s questionable center depth would seriously be put to test in such a matchup.
“We understand that some people out there feel we’re vulnerable,” Colangelo said to The New York Times.
The international game is different from the one Americans are often used to. It’s more physical, there’s more zone, and it can sometimes feel like the clock has been turned back a couple decades. Popovich undoubtedly knows this, and he will select his final roster accordingly.
But it’s not unusual for there to be superstar defections late into the process. The NBA season starts weeks after the World Cup ends, and many of the league’s best don’t want to deal with an injury risk and skipping some highly-valued vacation time. Yet, Team USA has performed well and won championships with what could be considered “B teams.” In 2010, Team USA won gold in Istanbul without any players from the triumphant 2008 Olympic squad. In 2014, many players pulled out before the competition in Spain, but the team went 9-0 and was crowned king of the world anyway. This team will still be a force at the World Cup and host the same target on its back that all iterations of Team USA have held, most likely leading the charge for international supremacy in 2019.