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.