Recently in the international basketball world there has been some talk about implementing an age limit that would have Olympic basketball mirror what Olympic football (or soccer to Americans) currently has in place for the 2012 games. These Olympic Games mark the 20th anniversary of the original “Dream Team”, the first American Olympic team to ever feature active NBA players, and if David Stern has his way this will also be the last to feature many of today’s NBA stars. David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, acting as the face of the NBA (and in the owner’s interests) has stated that many of the team owners would feel more comfortable sending their star players to play in an international tournament if (those owners) were sharing in the revenue raised by that tournament, which they currently do not as USA Basketball is its own separate entity. For months, Stern and the NBA executives have been discussing an end to the “Dream Team” motive, and instead rebranding the current FIBA World Championships to make it more like the world’s most popular tournament, the real World Cup.
Establishing age restrictions on the Olympics makes perfect sense for the NBA and is a process that they should be involved in very actively. The 1992 Dream Team was one of the coolest and most exciting teams in the world (in all of sport), and a gold medal winner that the USA desperately needed at the time after not winning it all in 1988. Today, the NBA doesn’t need the minimal excitement that they can gain from a two week tournament during what should be these players off-season, at least not at the risk of having them injured. The Dream Team was established because we, as Americans, were pissed that we got a bronze medal in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul with a college all-star team while every other country sent their best professionals. The Dream Team, and every other team that we’ve sent since (with the exception of the 2004 team that took home another bronze) has won gold at the Olympics. With the expected gold medal in this summer’s Games, we’ve shown the world that we can dominate if we want to. It’s time to give the kids a chance.
If the NBA and its owners can work the details out the way that we all hope they can international basketball will continue to have two major tournaments, one for the future stars (the Olympics) and one for the current stars (the World Cup). The system works for soccer, especially how 3 senior national players (players over 23) are allowed to compete at the Olympics. That is a system that still keeps the quasi-amateur appeal to the Olympic Games while making the World Cup the biggest event on the calendar every 4 years, and as a soccer fan I really love how that idea works for that sport. I know that it can work for basketball too. As with any major decision, it always comes down to money, but with Stern, Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban, and many other very rich and very intelligent people on board the NBA can use this potential change as a growth opportunity.
For fun, and to silence some of the people who think that this is an idea that would ruin USA Basketball, I decided to put together a 12-man roster of players who would qualify for this year’s Olympic Games (using the football/soccer model as a guide). I feel that the roster that I’ve put together could do a lot of damage in these Olympic Games, and it doesn’t even include injured Clippers’ forward Blake Griffin and his incredible dunks or any Over-23 Senior National Players. For people who follow basketball, please let me know if I left off your favorite eligible player (born after January 1, 1989) or if there are any players you think could have an impact on this squad. I still feel that this team could and would win the gold medal if the NBA owners colluded to take their star players back from Europe today (they won’t, it’s hypothetical).
My 2012 USA Basketball Under 23 Team
The guard position is where this USA U-23 team would dominate. How about a 5-guard set of John Wall, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Jrue Holiday, and Avery Bradley? Harden, Bradley and Holiday have already experienced some success in the NBA as key members of their teams, and John Wall and Kyrie Irving could be game-changers for this squad with the other talent around them (much better than either of their current NBA teams). Wall and Irving were both also #1 overall picks (2010 and 2011, respectively) so you can’t get
much more talent out of young guards, keeping the 23 year old requirement. I know Irving broke his hand slapping a wall in practice last week, but that’s an injury that would not have happened had Coach K been present, so I am being a bit lenient here. If you want to add his replacement, Tyreke Evans of the Kings or DeMar Derozan of the Raptors are both more than capable.
John Wall – PG, Wizards: 6’4”, 195 lbs. (9/6/90)
James Harden – SG, Thunder: 6’5”, 220. (8/26/89)
Kyrie Irving – PG, Cavs: 6’3”, 190. (3/23/90)
Jrue Holiday – PG, 76ers: 6’4”, 180. (6/12/90)
Avery Bradley – SG, Celtics. 6’2”, 180. (11/26/90)
This USA U-23 team doesn’t have an overabundance of forwards, especially with the injury to Blake Griffin. Kevin Durant just misses the age restriction as he was born in September 1988, but this team does still have more talent at this age group than most countries have at any age. Many potential members of the 2012 draft class could join this roster, and would be on the Select team in case of injuries, but I decided to go with players who have NBA experience for now. For my version of the team I put two players who just completed their rookie seasons at small forward, Derrick Williams of the Timberwolves (college: Arizona) and Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs (college: San Diego State). Both of these players are super athletic and averaged about 8 points per game during their rookie campaigns, and both should have bright futures in the NBA. At the power forward spot, I went with Derrick Favors who at age 21 already has 3 seasons under his belt and has improved each year. Also at the 4, I also chose Dejuan Blair who despite his limited height for a center (the position he plays for San Antonio) still has averaged 9 points and 6 rebounds per game during his NBA career thus far.
Derrick Williams – SF/PF, Timberwolves. 6’8”, 240 lbs. (5/25/91)
Kawhi Leonard – SF, Spurs. 6’7”, 220. (6/29/91)
Derrick Favors – PF, Jazz. 6’10”, 250. (7/15/91)
Dejuan Blair – PF/C, Spurs. 6’7”, 270. (4/22/89)
Center is a position that the USA has on lock compared to most other countries, especially at this age group. Anthony Davis, the Unibrow, is 19 years old and already on the Senior National Team and he will be a force in these Olympics and the 2016 Games, even if the age limit is established. Besides Davis, the USA has a 21-year old DeMarcus Cousins of the Kings, who averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds for them last season. Cousins is a bit of a character, but when it’s for his country and with the proper coaching he’d be a monster. Rounding out the team is a center from the Pistons, Greg Monroe. Monroe doesn’t get much press, but the 22-year old averaged 15 points and almost 10 rebounds per game last year in Detroit and is starting to come around to the expectations placed on the #7 overall pick in the 2010 draft.
Anthony Davis – C, Hornets. 6’10”, 220 lbs. (3/11/93)
Demarcus Cousins – C, Kings. 6’11”, 270. (8/13/90)
Greg Monroe – C, Pistons. 6’11”, 250. (6/4/90)
Researching this potential team just made me feel really old, but I’d love to hear your comments regarding my selections. I feel this would still be a team of gold medal pedigree, whether facing other country’s best players or what in a perfect world would be the best players under 23 (just like this team). As a USA Basketball fan, looking at this roster has to make you happy for the future of the sport in this country, and let me tell you it’s getting even better with some of the players drafted this year who haven’t shown their talent in the NBA yet.