U.S. Team Was Probably A Gold Longshot From Start

Even with a couple of leading candidates to win the 2006 John R. Wooden Award in its lineup, Team USA couldn't play its way into the medal round semifinals at the FIBA Under-21 Championships in Argentina. What could the coaching staff and USA Basketball's selection committee have done differently to make a major difference? In all reality, not a lot.

That the U.S.'s representative to the FIBA 21-And-Under Championships will leave Argentina without gold medals comes as little surprise to many of those who watched the tryouts for the team in late July and early August.


None of the players in attendance at the trials, including a couple of those who are considered among the top candidates for the John R. Wooden Award (Rudy Gay of Connecticut and J.J. Redick), came close to drawing the raves from NBA types that are usually reserved for "sure-fire" lottery selections in the following NBA draft.


Here are some comments from one NBA personnel director about some of the players after he'd watched a few days of the trials in Texas:


"Brutal" . . . "they locked him up (defensively)" . . . "he had no clue" . . . "he was way out of control".


And the thing is . . . each of those four players not only made the cut to 12 but played extensively in Mar del Plata.


But we shouldn't lose sight of something: most of the best U.S. players who are 21 or younger are either in the NBA (LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, Shaun Livingston, Sebastian Telfair and Martell Webster come immediately to mind) or in high school (Greg Oden, O.J. Mayo and Spencer Hawes are three good examples).


The NBA, even with the 19-years-old/one-out-of-high-school requirement for draft eligibility, will continue to strip USA Basketball of a large number of the 21-and-under amateur set.


The era when we could slap together any team of basketball players – be they from high school, college or the NBA – and cruise through international competitions has been over for a long while now.


Daniel Gibson (Texas) and Adam Morrison (Gonzaga) would have helped the U.S. get past Canada in the quarterfinals – had they accepted invitations to try out for the team.


There's no point in second-guessing Phil Martelli or the USA Basketball selection committee about the make-up of the 12-member team that went to Argentina. They did the best that they could with what was available to them. And these days "the best that is available" to the U.S. for that kind of competition doesn't necessarily translate into gold – or silver or bronze, for that matter – medal returns on the players' and coaches' time investment.



*The summer's worst fears of University of Connecticut basketball followers were elevated Friday when guard A.J. Price was arrested Friday and charged with four counts of felony larceny and one misdemeanor count of making a false statement to campus police following a nearly two-month investigation into the theft of four laptop computers from dormitory rooms at the school.


Several media outlets have reported that an even more high profile Huskies' player – junior-to-be Marcus Williams, one of the top point guards in the country – could also be arrested, as a result of the same investigation, once he returns to Connecticut. Williams is a member of the U.S. team that has been competing in the FIBA Under-21 Championships in Argentina. The team was scheduled to play its final game (against Argentina) Sunday and return to the U.S. Monday.


Price (who wasn't able to play last season as a freshman due to a brain hemorrhage) and his family have more immediate concerns regarding the situation than how it will impact the Huskies' 2005-06 season. The same holds true for Williams and his family, if media reports of his possible role in the investigation are verified.


But the loss of both or either – especially Williams; Price, if healthy was expected to serve as his back-up – would put major dents into the roster of a team that many consider a favorite or no worse than a co-favorite (with Duke) to cut down nets on April 3 in Indianapolis.


It should be obvious now as to why the Huskies signed a June graduate of Niagara Falls High (6-1 Robert Garrison, who had been expected to attend a prep school) to a scholarship agreement in early July.


*Brandon Rush, through most of the winter and spring, seemed about as likely to be playing college basketball next season as I am.


The 6-foot-5 ½ swingman and brother of Kareem Rush of the Charlotte Bobcats, who turned 20 last month, had been considered by NBA scouts and recruiting analysts as a near lock to enter the NBA draft.


He did enter the draft pool and played reasonably well during the NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Chicago and during some individual workouts with NBA teams. But when it became apparent that he wasn't going to be selected before the early-to-mid second-round range, he withdrew his name.


Most assumed he'd spent another year in prep school (or working out at the IMG Academy) before entering next June's draft.


But now he's apparently bound for Indiana, Illinois or Kansas. Assuming he gains eligibility (after the NCAA's Clearinghouse examines his transcripts), he'd be an immediate contributor for any of the three programs.


How much impact would he have on any of those teams, specifically, or on the college season, in general?


That depends on how at least two aspects of his game – his jump shooting and his defense – come along. Questions about each of those areas is why there wasn't an NBA franchise ready to invest a first-round selection on him on June 28.


*Everyone seems to be convinced that the top recruiting class for 2006 (players signing in November and next spring) has already been sewn up by Ohio State.


Nothing will be official until Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook and David Lighty – anyone else Thad Matta and his staff get commitments from – sign national letters of intent in November.


Oden is the top prospect in the class and has the best long-term basketball future of any player in the world who is not already earning NBA paychecks.


His teammate at Lawrence North High in Indianapolis (Conley) is one of the two best point guards in the Class of 2006. He played like it in Las Vegas last month. The other, future North Carolina Tar Heel Tywon Lawson, didn't.


I watched Cook (Dayton Dunbar) for five days in San Diego in June during the USA Basketball Youth Festival and with Oden, Conley and the rest of the Spiece Indy Heat during the Reebok/Big Time Tournament in Las Vegas last month.


He's very good – a strong candidate to be a 2006 McDonald's All-America. But I didn't see enough to rate him as a Top Five or even Top 10 prospect in this class right now.


I haven't seen Lighty (Cleveland St. Joseph). He missed the summer circuit while recovering from a torn ACL.


But here's the program that could at least give Ohio State a strong push to the finish line for No. 1 next spring: Stanford.


With commitments from twins Brook and Robin Lopez (Fresno San Joaquin Memorial), the Cardinal can expect letter of intents in November from, conservatively, two of the 15 best prospects in the national senior class. Stanford is expected to also get a letter from an underrated shooter, 6-9 Will Paul (Corpus Christi, Texas, Calallen).


But here's the guy who would make a Ohio State vs. Stanford debate worthwhile: Spencer Hawes, in my estimation, the No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2006.


Stanford will have a freshman frontcourt to rival any ever put together if the 6-11 senior at Seattle Prep selects the Cardinal over his other four finalists (Connecticut, North Carolina, UCLA and Washington).


An April inductee into the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.FrankHoops.com


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