Today’s DimeMag.com poll asked if a team of American college ballplayers would land on the medal stand in these Olympics. USA Basketball used amateur players for decades before the originial Dream Team and was traditionally dominant, but with other countries closing the talent gap over time, could today’s collegians still compete?
Putting together an amateur-only ’08 Team USA, I’d still have to put Coach K in charge (although I’m a Duke-hater, I have to give the man credit for being the best in the business), but after that there are plenty of philosophical questions to answer. For example, in a year with so many great freshmen, do you go with a crew thick with 18- and 19-year-olds, or lean towards older, more experienced upperclassmen? (Keep in mind that players who were drafted this year would be eligible.)
Do you go with a guard-heavy lineup similar to the current U.S. team, or employ more bigs to deal with experienced international big men like Pau Gasol, Andrew Bogut and Yao Ming? Do you want Coach K to go with a more structured system since he’s got younger players, or keep the same free-wheeling system with which he’s let the pros feast on the rest fo the Olympic? Lastly, are there any Class of ’08 high schoolers talented and/or mature enough to make the roster?
(Side note: If we still used collegians for the Olympics, the NBA Draft would look a lot different from a broadcast perspective. Earlier this summer I saw a replay of the ’84 draft, and a lot of the guys weren’t in attendance — i.e. Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and others — because they were training with Bob Knight and Team USA in Bloomington, Indiana.)
* Derrick Rose, Memphis — The best point guard in the country would be the Chris Paul of this Olympic squad. No international guard this side of Ricky Rubio would have a chance of keeping Rose out of the lane, and he can finish at or above the rim when he isn’t creating for his teammates.
* O.J. Mayo, USC — Think Kobe or D-Wade on the current U.S. team. Mayo can play the one or the two, and his scoring and shooting is almost a bonus to the defensive skills he’ll bring. Despite what you’ve heard about him, O.J. is a team player and a winner to the core.
* Shan Foster, Vanderbilt — Shooting specialist a la Michael Redd, and like Redd can also make things happen off the dribble. The award-winner for the NCAA’s best senior would bring some experience and maturity to Team USA.
* Stephen Curry, Davidson — The best shooter in the country from deep (43.9%) and mid-range, Curry will bust the international zone and can handle the ball well enough to break a press. The only concern is his size. At 6-2, 185 pounds, Curry (25.9 ppg) is a two-guard in Tyronn Lue‘s body.
* Mario Chalmers, Kansas — It’s not just The Shot. Chalmers plays sticky defense and racks up steals, which is the backbone of Team USA’s success. Plus, as you know, he steps up and delivers on big stages.
* Michael Beasley, Kansas State — Even if he wasn’t capable of dropping 25 points a night, Beasley’s rebounding alone (12.4 rpg) would get him on this squad.
* D.J. White, Indiana — While not the same caliber athlete, D.J.’s more of a technician in the post than Beasley. Often compared to Elton Brand, he can rebound and block shots as well as score with a legit go-to move (jump hook) that will work against pros. Another senior who brings maturity and is battle-tested.
* Donte Greene, Syracuse — Another zone-busting shooter who seems perfect for the FIBA game. Like ‘Melo, can play the two, the three or the four internationally.
* Anthony Randolph, LSU — Anyone who was familiar with the John Brady era at LSU knows there’s a reason Randolph didn’t get the most out of his potential last year. He showed in the NBA summer league, though, how good of a scorer and all-over-the-court threat he can be. On the FIBA level Randolph could play anywhere from the three to the five.
* Randal Falker, Southern Illinois — A defensive lock-down specialist who excels in man-to-man, zone and in a press. Smallish for a power forward at 6-7, Falker is still active on the boards (7.2 rpg) and is adequate enough offensively (13 ppg).
* Kevin Love, UCLA — Tailor-made for the international game with his basketball IQ, ability to step out and shoot, and knack for handling the physical play allowed by FIBA refs. Offensive rebounds galore, and his famous outlet passes will ignite plenty of U.S. fast breaks.
* Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi State — Although he’s only 6-9, Varnado’s reach is that of a 7-footer. The nation’s leader in blocks (4.6 bpg) will return plenty of shots to sender, and he’s fast and athletic enough to get out and run with a fast-breaking squad. While still raw offensively, Varnado will only be called upon for his rebounding (5th in the SEC) and defense.
Just missed the cut — Jerryd Bayless, Arizona; Ryan Anderson, Cal; Joey Dorsey, Memphis; Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis; Luke Harangody, Notre Dame; Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina; Brook Lopez, Stanford; Eric Gordon, Indiana; Eric Maynor, Virginia Commonwealth; James Harden, Arizona State, Darrell Arthur, Kansas.