When Jerry Colangelo took over a troubled USA basketball program in 2005, he issued an order requiring players to make multiyear commitments to Team USA if they wanted to eventually be part of the Olympic team.
Grant Hill, in his first year as managing director of the national team after replacing Colangelo’s legendary run, is operating in a different reality. And so as he prepares for a two-year cycle that includes this summer’s World Cup in Manila and next year’s Olympics in Paris, he is taking a softer approach to attracting America’s elite athletes.
“There’s no commitment necessary, no ‘if you want to play in the Olympics, you have to play here,'” Hill said on a video call with reporters on Monday. “I understood why it was implemented and I think it was very successful…but we felt we had to make changes in this regard. So no effort, no commitment.”
Team USA, under the leadership of Colangelo, was already moving in this direction. There was no formal cut short to the training camp ahead of the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo as players deal with COVID-19 restrictions. This sometimes reduced uncomfortable situations where star players were upset when they were cut from the national team after several days of trying out.
Following the pandemic, Team USA dropped its annual request for players to participate in the summer session in Las Vegas in non-competition years. There was no formal national team activity the previous summer.
With players focusing more on load management and offseason recovery, the back demand is a tough sell. Additionally, the international basketball schedule has changed and the World Cup and Olympics are now played in back-to-back summers, making the investment of time for the national team more in less time.
Hills said, “You have to adapt to the times.” “If you look at the NBA, it’s changed a lot. It’s changed since I retired in 2013. Every generation is different and it’s important for us as leadership, especially USA Basketball, to recognize that. And be prepared to adapt with that change.”
This places an additional challenge on Hill, incoming Team USA head coach Steve Kerr and national team director Sean Ford to recruit players, manage commitments and judge the strengths of top opposition teams over the next few months as They manage to assemble a roster. There are no concrete commitments yet for this summer and Hill expects a process that will go on over the course of the summer as the team plans to meet in Las Vegas in early August for a training camp.
A lot will depend on injuries, how long some players’ playoff runs last and off-season transactions. But with no roster spots for the competition, a team of 12 players will be named before training camp. As is tradition, there will also be a select team made up of youth players who will participate in training and will also be available for promotion to the senior team if required.
Team USA will play a showcase game in Las Vegas before embarking on an around-the-world trip to play Slovenia and defending World Cup champions Spain in Malaga, Spain. They will then play Greece and Germany in Abu Dhabi before heading to Manila for three weeks’ World Cup.
Hill said, “When I took on this job, I understood it would be challenging and certainly not formal.” “There’s a lot of respect for the international game and there’s certainly a lot of work that goes into giving us a chance to win gold. Expectations are tremendous. Anything less than gold is seen as a failure. I know about But I like the challenge.”