For all you basketball loving kids out there, a quick hoops history lesson. Once upon a time, Team USA filled the men's basketball roster only with players yet to participate in the NBA. This formula worked to gold-medal perfection for decades (Doug Collins says we won in '72) until the mid-to-late 80s when our kids started losing to adults from places like Russia and Brazil. Then came the 1992 Dream Team - and nightmares for the rest of the world facing our best pros.
Lately, the smartly-run, well organized teams produced by USAB managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski have been the best of the best. Even with so many stars sitting out next month's World Cup of Basketball in Spain, Team USA enters as the clear favorite.
Now, what would happen if we turned back the clock and returned to world (at least on the U.S. side) without pros. Here's a look at a possible 12-man roster with nothing but kids, beginning with the starters:
- Julius Randle, Lakers/Kentucky, PF, 6-8: Counting on a one-and-done player, even the truly talented ones, for a significant role on this stage is scary. Then again, Randle was argubly the best low-post scorer in college basketball last season.
- Doug McDermott, Bulls/Creighton, SF, 6-8: The one member of this squad who wouldn't be a major stretch as a member of the real life team headed to Spain. Stupendous 3-point shooter and the crafty scorer's constant movement creates open looks. Team USA's go-to guy.
- Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin, C, 7-0: Kaminsky had a tremendous junior campaign for the Badgers, averaging nearly 10 more points per game than his previous season. Not a true rim protector, but he clearly has size and can pull opposing bigs away from the rim with his perimeter touch.
- Sean Kilpatrick, Undrafted/Cincinnati, SG, 6-4: Remember, this isn't about NBA projections, but winning games in August and September. The 24-year-old led the AAC in scoring and did just about everything for the Bearcats during his senior season, including thriving in clutch moments. Oh, Kilpatrick might stick with the 76ers after a solid performance on their summer league team.
- Marcus Smart, Celtics/Oklahoma State, PG, 6-4: Will bring toughness and leadership to the squad from the backcourt. Smart wisely uses his physicality for the purposes of constant trips to the free throw line, grabbing rebounds and picking pockets.
- Jabari Parker, Bucks/Duke, SF, 6-8: The No. 2 pick will have plenty of opportunity to show he's the man, whether playing alongside McDermott as a stretch-4 or attacking from the wing. Parker's offensive repertoire is rather mature despite just one season on the college level.
- Adreian Payne, Hawks/Michigan State, PF, 6-10: Speaking of stretch-4 options, Payne is the best one among the true bigs. Shot 42 percent on 3-point attempts as a senior, yet also played physically. Payne would also serve as the third-string center.
- T.J. Warren, Suns/NC State, SF/PF, 6-8: The highly efficient and offensively mature forward can score inside and out. However, do we want a third small forward on the other roster when none of three can also play in the backcourt? Seeing as McDermott and Parker struggle defensively, Warren must commit on that end to clinch his spot.
- Jahlil Okafor, Duke, C, 6-foot-10: Back in 1988, incoming Georgetown freshman Alonzo Mourning nearly played his way onto the Olympic team coached by the head Hoya, John Thompson. In this example, Okafor's soon-to-be college coach serves in the same role for Team USA. Thompson had big man options like David Robinson and Danny Manning. Coach K clearly does not. What Okafor lacks in experience he makes up with in skills, size and mobility, a combination that has him entering college as the top prospect
- Rodney Hood, Jazz/Duke, SG/SF, 6-9: Maybe he's on the team because I watched Hood drain one 3-pointer after another in a Las Vegas summer league game. Maybe because I believe Coach K would take his guys. Maybe because the backcourt needs size. Though I'd prefer a better defender in this spot, Hood just gets the nod over C.J Wilcox, Gary Harris and James Young.
- Elfrid Payton, Magic/Louisiana-Lafayette, PG, 6-4: Popped on the nationals scene in 2013 by making the U-19 team. The lottery pick's length and athleticism leads to fast break opportunities on one end and slows down opposing scorers on the other.
- Shabazz Napier, Heat/UConn, PG, 6-foot-1: The crafty point guard carried the eventual national champions by flourishing in pressure-packed moments, directing the offensive attack and shooting over 40 percent on his 3-point tries. Napier was often at his best in halfcourt sets, which makes him a likely crunch time performer for Team USA. We'll ignore the brutal shooting during summer league with Miami, for now.
Missed the cut: Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky), Bryce Cotton (Spurs/Providence), Cleanthony Early (Knicks/Wichita State), Aaron Gordon (Magic/Arizona), Joe Harris (Cavs/Virginia), K.J. McDaniels (76ers/Clemson), Mitch McGary (Thunder/Michigan), Jarnell Stokes (Grizzles/Tennessee), C.J. Wilcox (Clippers/Washington), James Young (Celtics/Kentucky)