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FIBA Basketball World Cup

FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019: Jerry Colangelo says under-23 players could be the future for Team USA at the World Cup

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The conversation surrounding Team USA heading into the FIBA Basketball World Cup was more to do with who wasn't on the team, rather than who did make the trip to China.

As several big names pulled out of the tournament, headlined by James Harden, Anthony Davis, CJ McCollum, Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard, Team USA took on a much younger look, with a host of emerging talents given the opportunity to pull on the red, white and blue.

On the eve of their World Cup quarter-final, Team USA has a perfect 5-0 record, not without a couple of close calls, with Turkey pushing them to an overtime thriller in the first group stage. While they still remain the favourite to win the gold medal, the outcome of the tournament almost serves as a litmus test for where the USA basketball program currently stands.

After their bronze medal finish at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the third-place finish at the 2006 World Championships, USA basketball was overhauled, led by Managing Director Jerry Colangelo - giving birth to the '2008 Redeem Team' who went on to win gold at the Beijing Olympics, powered by Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Chris Bosh, signalling the return of the superstars.

The 2008 revival laid the foundation for the next four major tournaments, which saw Team USA's players invest in a long-term commitment to the program to put them back on top of the global pecking order.

For Colangelo, striking the balance between the World Cup and the Olympics has been a tough task, given the scheduling of the tournaments now in back-to-back summers, making the decision to play in the World Cup tougher than ever for the USA's elite players.

"I think the new FIBA format where there are back-to-back competitions, '19 and '20, the World Cup and then the Olympics is a major factor, with two seasons that play into this also and so the combination of those factors led to decisions being made," Colangelo told NBA.com.

"We know everybody wants to play next year in the Olympics, but our focus is on the World Cup and the guys we have here, we're excited to have the people we have."

Perhaps a more hand-in-hand approach from FIBA and the NBA is required to ensure the tournament can attract the best players in the world.

"We've already started some of those conversations. I'll add one further little twist and that is a number of NBA teams, once they go to training camp, they're leaving for the Far East or Europe and therefore those are big trips on top of our competition and so you need to spread that out a little bit and it would make it much easier and probably get a better result for the Cup in terms of players who commit."

While the Olympics remains as the pinnacle of international basketball, Colangelo admits that mindset doesn't necessarily apply to the rest of the world, with international powerhouses like Australia, Spain, Serbia and France all sending most of their top-level talent to China.

"I think it's only in the United States, I think around the world, the World Cup in basketball may have more significance than the Olympics, but that's never been the case in the United States," Colangelo added.

Given the scheduling of the tournament and its impact on NBA players, combined with the prestige of an Olympic gold medal, Colangelo says Team USA could look to make the World Cup a testing ground for the younger players to earn their stripes to make the Olympic squad the following year.

"I think there's a real effort to try and boost that [appeal of the World Cup], but if this kind of a trend continues, we may very well end up going with 23 and unders and going with totally just young guys and use it as a training ground for the Olympics."

With the average age of the current squad just 25.9 years old, Team USA is embracing the youth movement, but will anything less than a gold medal in China change that?

We'll have to wait and see.

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