Thursday, July 26, 2007

Under the Radar: USA Pan American Men's Basketball

Seemingly under the radar of the sporting world, the USA Pan American men’s basketball squad will compete July 25-29 in the 2007 Pan American Games men's basketball competition.

Time now for a brief history lesson…

The Pan American Games are a continental version of the Olympic Games, which includes both Olympic sports and other disciplines suggested by the competition organization and approved by PASO. Held every four years, always one year before the Summer Olympic Games, the first Pan American Games were held in 1951 in Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina. There are no Pan American Winter games yet.

It’s also widely known, at least within the sporting realms, that most American representatives are considered second-class athletes. You aren’t very likely to see Michael Phelps in the pool, Maurice Green on the track, or the top gymnasts competing. However, it is an important threshold for young talent to breakthrough and often boasts plenty of Olympic-quality competition.

As for the men’s basketball tournament specifics, for these games, the highlight of this article: the United States has been placed in preliminary round Group A along with Argentina, Panama and Uruguay, and Group B consists of Brazil, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The U.S. opens preliminary play July 25 facing Uruguay (10 p.m. Rio de Janeiro local time), then meets Panama on July 26 (7:45 p.m. Rio de Janeiro local time) and the U.S. closes out preliminary round action against Argentina on July 27 (7:45 p.m. Rio de Janeiro local time). Semifinals will be held on July 28 and the finals will be played July 29.

Coaching the team will be Villanova head coach Jay Wright. His assistants include Alabama’s Mark Gottfried and Yale’s James Jones. The player selections were made after USA Basketball conducted five trials sessions between July 12-14 and four practices between July 15-17 at Haverford College (Pa.).

So what does this year’s team look like???

Before we dive head-first into the 12 selected, who might have the most beef with Wright and committee head (and assistant to the national team) Jim Boeheim, include:
Jon Brockman (Washington), Brian Butch (Wisconsin), Josh Carter (Texas A&M), Mario Chalmers (Kansas), Sherron Collins (Kansas), Brandon Costner (NC State), Eric Devendorf (Syracuse), Joey Dorsey (Memphis), Wayne Ellington (North Carolina), Randal Falker (Southern Illinois), Shan Foster (Vanderbilt), Alonzo Gee (Alabama), James Gist (Maryland),
Richard Hendrix (Alabama), Roy Hibbert (Georgetown), Maarty Leunen (Oregon), Chris Lofton (Tennessee), Derrick Low (Washington State), Wesley Matthews (Marquette), Eric Maynor (Virginia Commonwealth), Jerel McNeal (Marquette), Tasmin Mitchell (LSU)
Drew Neitzel (
Michigan State), DeMarcus Nelson (Duke), Ahman Nivins (St. Joseph’s)
Scottie Reynolds (Villanova), Jon Scheyer (Duke), Bryce Taylor (
Oregon), Kyle Weaver (Washington State), and DJ White (Indiana).

A selection of 32 collegiate talents, there were more than a few snubs before the final 12 was selected. Now while everyone has complaints (some more legit than others), you have to consider that the best 12 as a team were supposed to be selected. Just looking at the list their appears to be a few hometown choices, a few ball hogs, and a few guys who might have potential ego problems.

Here’s the twelve, for better or worse, who were selected (with, of course, some minor comments from myself included):

Joey Dorsey [Power Forward/Center] 6’9, 260 LBS. (Memphis)
Props: His physical appearance alone, check the tale of the tape above, makes him bound for an Under Armor commercial once he turns pro. Despite being complete abused by
Ohio State’s Greg Oden in the Elite Eight (after calling Oden out as a “little man”), Dorsey still locked up 1st-team honors for Conference USA.
Flops: Dorsey’s mouth got him into big trouble against Oden; however, he lacks a solid offensive game that doesn’t involve alley-oops and anything not within 5 feet of the hoop. He may be prone to foul trouble against some of the continent’s other bigs, as well.
Yes/No: Yes. His size and athleticism make him a genetic freak. Fortunately, he runs the court extremely well and will be a perfect defensive 5 for Team

Wayne Ellington [Shooting Guard] 6’4, 196 LBS. {North Carolina)
Props: Ellington played on the 2006 Nike Hoops Summit team and then went on to play in all 38 games for the ACC Champion Tar Heels this season. He was on the 2007 All ACC Tournament teams and averaged a strong 11.7 points per game. A deadly shooter off of a screen or from all around the perimeter, Ellington was one of the nation’s highest touted guards one season ago.
Flops: Ellington faded in and out at times on a talented UNC roster. Despite dominating in college, he took a bit of a secondary role for UNC at times. His youth may be all that held him back this season, as NC still provided him with plenty of minutes and opportunities.
Yes/No: Yes. Ellington is a dynamic shooter and can take over games with his play away from the ball. He should’ve been one of the easier selections for Boeheim, Wright, and company.

Shan Foster [Small Forward] 6’6, 200 LBS. (Vanderbilt)
Props: In case you missed a good chunk of March Madness, Shan Foster was a vital asset to Vanderbilt’s near Elite Eight run (remember, the Jeff Green faux-travel?). While Derrick Byars was the name-brand guy, Foster played brilliantly against both
Washington State (a double OT game) and the aforementioned showdown with the Hoyas.
Flops: His athleticism may cost him with difficult matchups. He’s also one of the least touted guys on this roster.
Yes/No: Yes. He’s a terrific team player and can take and make key shots. He provides a tough matchup for a lot of players and should be one of the glue-guys off the bench for this team.

James Gist [Power Forward] 6’8, 228 LBS. (Maryland)
Props: He’s young, raw, and determined. He plays with a lot of intensity and is still growing at 20 years old. He is solid in the post, with even a hook shot coming along, and can help protect smaller perimeter players inside. His mid-range shooting is streaky, but he just might be able to get a couple easy buckets and change the pace of a game mid-way through it.
Flops: He’s never gotten serious minutes and may be a little undersized for the position and type of play he’ll be needed for. He may never actually shoot the ball either on this team.
Yes/No: Yes. Every team needs a garbage man. Here is that guy.

Roy Hibbert [Center] 7-2, 278 LBS. (Georgetown)
Props: An all 1st-team Big East performer, Hibbert was one of the major reasons why the Hoyas made a run into the Final Four this past season. Forgoing a likely lottery selection, Hibbert is extremely talented, coachable, and provides havoc via mismatches with other big men. His foot speed is underrated in the paint and he can play defensively minded whenever asked to.
Flops: He is prone to foul trouble, lacks great court speed, and isn’t as vocal a leader as some coaches want in their big man.
Yes/No: Yes. Most likely one of the first selections made by the coaching staff, Hibbert is a perfect 5 for the American style of play. As long as he can limit his foul trouble, he will reign over similar structured, yet skillfully flawed, international big-men.

Marty Leunen [Power Forward/Center] 6-9, 215 LBS. (Oregon)
Props: His size allowed him to surprise a lot of opponents; especially since the majority of attention has never been directly given to him. While it’s unclear if he’ll play as an oversized 4 or potentially undersized 5, Leunen was an honorable mention All-Pac 10 performer this past season. Averaging 10 and 8, and logging good minutes, for Ernie Kent’s Ducks were plenty to earn him a tryout.
Flops: With guys like Gist and Dorsey already liabilities as shooters, Leunen may like the outside shot a big too much. His size isn’t daunting and his ability to finish may be lesser than some of the other invitees.
Yes/No: Yes. Sorry, but size matters. While I’m not in love with him shooting it from the outside (especially when a guy like Lofton gets cuts), I also appreciate the mismatches he might cause. He can also guard bigs around the perimeter. Something Gist & Dorsey don’t do particular well at all.

Derrick Low [Point Guard] 6-1, 186 LBS. (Washington State)
Props: Don’t let the hair fool you, Low had a ton to do with
Washington State’s reclamation season in 2006/2007. A former Mr. Basketball in Hawaii, Low has an incredible positive attitude and is an accomplished floor leader who adjusts well on the fly.
Flops: He’s a bit undersized and isn’t nearly as competent from behind the 3-point line as some people give him credit for. Some doubt his style of play translates well in this setting.
Yes/No: Yes. He joins fellow Cougar Kyle Weaver as the first
Washington State representatives on a Pan-Am team. A stand-out at the tryouts, the upcoming senior earned All-Pac Ten 1st team honors his junior season. While I was a little skeptical at first, his tryout reviews and reports seem too good to even consider passing on him.

Eric Maynor [Point Guard] 6-2, 165 LBS. (Virginia Commonwealth)
Props: Much like Carlos Boozer on the 2004 Olympic team, Maynor may not have as big of a name, ego, or reputation as some of the players he passed up. However, he has a flare for the dramatics (just ask George Mason and Duke fans) and, most importantly, is a pass-first point guard. With plenty of shot-happy guards already on the roster, Maynor, who needs work on his defense (although he has come up with key steals late in games), is a strong candidate to get serious minutes at the 1-spot.
Flops: Despite the win over Duke and the game against Pitt, VCU is still a mid-major school and Maynor’s jump shot clearly won’t scare anyone.
Yes/No: Yes. Pass first, pass second, drive third, and shoot maybe fourth. As a 1st-team CAA performer and conference tournament MVP, I don’t need to go hometown on this heady selection.

Drew Neitzel [Point Guard] 6-0, 180 LBS. (Michigan State)
Props: It’s hard to deny anyone who can make the All-1st team in the Big Ten. Adding to that, Neitzel is a savvy senior. He can drain a three-ball from as far as five feet behind the three-point arc and is fearless at taking over late in games. His clutch play alone, alongside his great court speed, is enough to make coaches salivate,
Flops: Despite his desire and drive, there are more skillful and talented players available many would argue. He also might fall in love with the deep ball, whether it goes in or not. Fatigue shouldn’t be an issue, though.
Yes/No: Yes. You need emotion, hustle, and a guy who’s willing to shoot from any spot in the gym. If he gets hot, he can match the young kids from around the continent who do nothing else than lob up a dozen threes every game.

Scottie Reynolds [Combo Guard] 6-2, 195 LBS. (Villanova)
Props: He has past international experience from his days with the 2005 Youth Development Festival White Team. Reynolds was also the Big East freshman of the year and an All-American freshman selection. He has incredible talent and plays much bigger than he’s listed as. He’s downright dynamic from start to finish on the court.
Flops: Sometimes he tries to do too much at one time. He might pass up a simpler route for a more spectacular play. There is also a lot of pressure on him since Jay Wright is his head coach at Villanova.
Yes/No: Yes. He’s a playmaker, plain and simple. Plus, if you were Jay Wright, could you honestly not let this guy on your team?

Kyle Weaver [Small Forward] 6-5, 185 LBS. (Washington State)
Props: Much like his teammate Low, Weaver was an All-Pac Ten first-team performer. He was a solid backcourt mate and never minded hitting clutch shots when it mattered the most. The Wisconsin-native seemed shocked by his invitation to the trials; yet, clearly took advantage of the opportunity well.
Flops: His name isn’t a big as others and perhaps he isn’t as assertive as they are either.
Yes/No: No. The only disagreement I could honestly make. While plenty of the guys invited shouldn’t have even been considered for the team, I find it hard to believe there wasn’t a spot for Chris Lofton. While Weaver has more size and strength, he also lacks the playmaking ability and numerous late-game experiences that Lofton does. However, I wasn’t there at the tryouts, so I can’t say much more.

D.J. White [Power Forward] 6-9, 251 LBS. (Indiana)
Props: Perhaps breaking out of the underachieving status-bug, White, who has previous Team USA Basketball experience from the 2004 Nike Hoop Summit and 2003 Youth Development Festival South Team, earned 2nd-team Big Ten honors this past season. He will be valuable against international teams who stack lineups of perimeter players (often without a true 5 on the court). He’s a veteran collegiate performer and easily coachable.
Flops: He’s definitely had a few consistency issues. He also might not be able to provide depth as the team’s third true big-man.
Yes/No: Yes. It isn’t a slam dunk, but it’s the right position. Despite the international game perhaps going away from his forte, he provides physical play and a nice touch away from the basket. Two things that are definitely needed to win games.

Most Notable Snubs:
Chris Lofton [SG, Tennessee]
-Perhaps the best pure shooter invited, Lofton apparently didn’t impress many of the coaches with his size issues (especially at the 2) and his inability to consistently knock down open perimeter looks. He seemed to show no hard feelings though, solidifying his reputation as a class act. Reynolds shouldn’t be the only true playmaker on this team.

Mario Chalmers [SG, Kansas]
-Whether most, like myself, considered the
Kansas guards (Chalmers and PG Sherron Collins) as potential selections or not, neither Jayhawk played up to snuff to make the team. A few eyes may glance a little harder at VCU’s Eric Maynor. Assuredly though, one of them isn’t USA Head Basketball coach Mike Kryzyweski.

Overall Thoughts
While I really enjoy some of the selections on this team, you'd be hard pressed in defending these players as the 12 best we could've sent. With names like Collison, Lawson, Hansbrough, James, Rush, and countless others not even invited to tryouts...this team is missing a ton of potential talent. It's bigs are a little shaky, it lacks true playmaking ability from a senior standout, and also doesn't have the dynamic scorer some of the international teams may supply. These are also players, with the exception of a noted few, who have almost no experience playing with each other. However, it should be a growing experience and fun to watch. Just don't expect automatic gold, or even a medal, just yet.

So there you have it. I’ll be posting, mainly through the comments section on this article, the progress, whether positive/negative/neutral, of this team.

Until next time…


Anonymous said...

Not sure who this team can rely on to score. If it's supposed to be Reynolds, hopefully he can bounce back after having a pretty tough go at it yesterday.

Most of the teams at this tournament have national teams that have played together for some time and many have NBA and European professional players on them as well. I'm afraid we may be in a little over our heads here.

Miguel said...

check out how the dream team lost against Uruguay