Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
An obvious implication of the NCAA’s move two years ago to open up individual workouts to players enrolled in summer classes was an improved brand of non-conference performance. Teams would be better suited to kick off their schedules with gusto. Much of the sloppy rust that typically defines November and December would be cleaned up, replaced by a crisper and more cohesive style of play. There was little regard for what other rippling effects this new rule might have. Coaches seemed to love the idea, anyway, and for all the obvious reasons. A slightly disconcerting side effect of the NCAA cutting the tape on summer team workouts rose to the surface with Thursday’s release of USA Basketball’s list of accepted tryout invitations for the Under-19 Czech Republic-located FIBA World Championships. The list is not short on talent or, slippery as it is to define in today’s diffuse one-and-done landscape, star power – Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon are among the accepted invites. But it’s missing an important and highly touted subset of players: the top players from the class of 2013.
With the exception of Gordon, the second-ranked power forward and fourth-ranked player overall, according to ESPN Recruiting nation, the list features none of the breathtaking talents that have national recruiting analysts in unanimous agreement over this class’s distinguished eminence. 2013’s top tier of talents is a rare collection of athletic wonder and refined skill and future lottery potential, and almost none of it will go into putting the best outfit possible on Eastern European courts this summer to represent the stars and stripes. Scan the list yourself, then peek back at any 2013 class rankings, and the absence of essentially every consensus top-20 player is hard to ignore. The Jabari Parkers and Julius Randles and Noah Vonlehs are all passing up the opportunity. Many of these players are scattered about the nation’s traditional blue-blood programs, but Kentucky – as part of building the best recruiting class of all time, Andrew Wiggins’ exclusion duly noted – owns six top-100 commitments in 2013, and none of them decided to join up with Team USA at this summer’s event. John Calipari spoke with The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy about his players’ collective rebuttal of national team participation, and when you dig beneath the image of Calipari’s nebulously slick media guile and accept his words at face value, their decision is perfectly respectable (and not at all unpatriotic – just in case you were ready to summon one of those tortured “what about the old days?! These kids have no sense of what it means to wear the stars and stripes!!” blusterings). It makes the most complete sense.
“Most of it is, they didn’t want to play. I’m not forcing kids to do anything,” Calipari told Sporting News. “I think the reason they all turned it down is, they want to get started.”