Team USA’s U-19 Title Hints at an Awesome Upcoming SeasonPosted by Chris Johnson on July 9th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
The hype leading up to the 2013-14 college basketball season will be immense. It already sort of is, when you really think about it: Andrew Wiggins’ announcement to join Kansas set the college hoops world aflame. Duke’s Jabari Parker was plastered on the cover a Sports Illustrated magazine comparing him to LeBron James. Kentucky’s recruiting class is being described in the loftiest echelons of hyperbolic recruiting praise. A host of talented sophomores spurned probable NBA riches for another go with their respective college outfits. Everything about the upcoming season looks great. I can’t wait.
Over the weekend, some of the USA’s best players age 19 and under put those expectations on the line in international competition, and held serve in convincing fashion. Team USA beat Serbia Sunday, 82-68, to earn the gold medal at the FIBA U-19 World Championships. Taking home first prize was no guarantee for the Red, White, and Blue, who have won just three of the last eight U-19 FIBA crowns, including 2011’s lamentable fifth-place finish. International basketball – and all the well-coached, cohesively groomed, fundamentally-drilled international players, international rules, and international travel quirks compacted within – is an entirely different breed of hoops. Former US teams as high as the senior level have struggled to adapt to FIBA-regulated play, and this team, for all its massive talent advantages, was not immune to those very same issues. Basketball’s recent popularity worldwide – plus, you know, us not winning every single time we step on the floor – has made one fact exceedingly clear: There are no foregone conclusions in international basketball. Team USA’s U-19 group was not willing to make any.
This team left no doubt about the best team in the field. It sidestepped every possible international upset tripwire with poise, flashing insane individual highlights along the way, and for that, Billy Donovan and the rest of his coaching staff deserve the lions share of the credit. Coach K’s restoration of American hoops hegemony has officially reached down into the youth ranks. International basketball is great at any age level, and watching our most impeccably constructed EA Sports dream teams come to life never gets old, but the performance we saw throughout the U-19’s Tournament win meant more than a world youth basketball order tilted back to its rightful USA-crowned axis. It reactivated the endorphins of the nation’s college basketball populace; people are more excited about this college basketball season than any in recent memory, and the young talent on display this weekend is a big reason why.
The best of the newcomers need no commendation. Wiggins and Parker are franchise- (or program-) changing talents with (probable) one-year college timelines. Their presence demands your viewing attention. Some of the other names brushed over by the Wiggins-Parker preseason hype vortex include Aaron Gordon, your FIBA Tournament MVP and resident dunkface of the week perpetrator this season. Washington signee Nigel Williams-Goss, a versatile backcourt force who showcased a versatile game in Tournament play, is another young talent to watch – one whose Pac-12 destination, like Gordon (Arizona), may ultimately obscure his first-year impact.
The incoming freshman class would be enough to push preseason anticipation levels into the stratosphere on its own merits. The returning sophomores Team USA roster-– including Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon, and Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell, who scored 17 points in the championship game – promise to make the 2013-14 college hoops landscape an even more thrillingly competitive prospect. There are buckets of good players spread across different sectors of the country, and all of them should come together to make the upcoming season one of the most memorable we have seen in years. Team USA gave us another glimpse of the glorious six-month drama about to play out before our eyes. It was just a little sample, and I don’t know about you, but I am already pining for a larger dose come November.