One Name Sticks Out On The Finalized U-19 Team USA RosterPosted by Chris Johnson on June 19th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Most Team USA basketball gatherings come with a lulling standard disclaimer: we, the United States of America, produce the best basketball players in the world. We’re better than you. I like saying that today, because as the game sinks its teeth into burgeoning hoops hotbeds in far-flung locales across this here planet we call Earth, other nations are catching up. Before you know it, there will be Yao Mings and Dirk Nowitzkis and Tony Parkers sprouting up left and right, and my proclamation won’t sound so secure. Maybe we’ll actually enter international basketball events with serious doubts over our talent and athletic advantages. After all, hastily throwing a group of NBA superstars without a savvy coach to meld them into one consistent whole can, as we learned through humbling defeats at recent Pre-Coach K Team USA Tournament events, pose losing-sized problems and nation-sized freakouts. Not to worry: the day where Spain and Argentina and Russia become our competitive equals on the hardwood are a long way down the road. Our hegemony over Dr. Naismith’s game is safe for now.
Ensuring that relative strength extends down on through the youth ranks is especially important, and if you’re interested in seeing at least a prospective few of the next generation of Dream Team legends – some players opted against participating in the Team USA festivities – Tuesday’s announcement of the final cuts on the U-19 Team USA roster might be something worth looking into. Check out that list. Depending on how closely you follow recruiting, most of these names should be familiar to you. The most recognizable name is Marcus Smart, and you definitely don’t need me to tell you why. Rasheed Sulaimon had a nice freshman season for Duke and looks ready to help the Jabari Parker-upgraded Blue Devils make a real run at the Final Four this season. Jerami Grant could be this year’s version of Michael Carter-Williams in that, much like MCW, he is a highly touted recruit who played backup minutes as a freshman (he started a few games while James Southerland was overcoming his mid-season academic eligibility roadblock), but will benefit from a massive spike in floor time his sophomore year. Montrezl Harrell is an electric frontcourt presence you probably remember best for doing this in the midst of the Spike Albrecht-spawned insanity of the first half of the national championship game. For the recruitniks, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow need no introduction. Across the board, even when you account for all the players who opted against participating, there are well-known, well-established, stars-in-waiting talents ready to compete –and hopefully, hammer home the idea that our international hoops dominance, so prominent under Coach K’s guidance, is birthed in the grassroots levels – for national pride against some of the best foreign amateurs in the world.
Nothing about this list is shocking if you’re simply looking for a basic portrait of some of the best 19-year-old players in the United States. If you’re a college hoops nut (guilty as charged), and you had at least heard or read about close to or all of those names without Googling for second reference, you’re in the right place. Because I think we can all agree there was one name that, unless you consider yourself a Louisiana-Lafayette fan, sent us diligently typing away in our monitor-long rectangular Internet search bars. I didn’t know who Elfrid Payton, a junior at ULL who averaged just under 16 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.4 steals, was – but now I do. Yahoo’s Jeff Eisenberg did the legwork, and what he came up with is a fascinating story about an under-recruited (that’s a huge understatement; ULL was the only school to even offer Payton a scholarship) guard with a dauntless attitude and the basketball chops to match. Payton is an aggressive defender – ergo: 2.4 steals per game – with the versatility to guard all manners of opposing perimeter threats. He’s the type of player VCU coach and Team USA assistant Shaka Smart, a defensive aggressor if there ever was one, could plug in a variety of spots. His scoring touch on the other end is a bonus, but I doubt coach Billy Donovan will burden himself much with asking Payton to carry the Red, White and Blue’s point production load. Okafor and Gordon and Harrell and Sulaimon and Smart and a host of others have that covered.
This team could be flawed in any number of spots; maybe we’re just not looking hard enough. I see an uber-talented group with enough balance, athleticism and face-melting superstar talent to run over foreign competition. I don’t know – your mileage may vary. A group of amateurs this capable, and an inclusion as superficially-odd but strategically-intuitive as Payton, will be an absolute joy to track at the upcoming world championship in the Czech Republic.