It’s the unfortunate nature of Team USA competition that some hopefuls—no matter how patriotic or competitive—will have their hopes of gold prematurely put on hold.
It was the second time in the past seven months that Wall found himself left off the ledger, the first being the team’s initial 28-player pool back in January (although he was later invited anew).
For Wall and Beal, the sting is bound to take some time to subside.
After that, there will be only one thing left for Washington’s dynamic duo to do: use the failure to fuel their fires.
With Wall, the pain must be particularly pronounced. Manning a point-guard spot whose sheer depth of talent has seldom been greater, Wall falling short is as much a point of positional pride as it is patriotic.
To see the FIBA spoils fall to Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving—the last of whom being a full 18 months younger than Wall—will undoubtedly rub him the wrong way, no matter the mutual respect between them.
From a purely strategic standpoint, it’s not difficult to see why Krzyzewski made the decisions he did. For as gifted an athlete and blossoming playmaker as Wall is, he falls comparatively short in what has time and again proven a FIBA must: shooting.
To be sure, Rose is no Mark Price from distance. But given the choice between a 25-year-old former MVP hungry to prove his doubters wrong and the still-developing Wall, Krzyzewski’s decision—influenced, perhaps, by the bench presence of Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau—was a no-brainer.
Not that it’ll stop Wall from filing away this latest sling the same way he did the last time Team USA left him off the list. From a January interview with The Washington Post’s Michael Lee:
It's more motivation because I didn't make the McDonald's [high school All-American] game. I wasn't national player of the year. I wasn't rookie of the year. So those are just tabs I keep to motivate myself to prove people wrong.
That Wall’s backcourt mate was included on the team’s initial wish list must’ve made for some mixed emotions indeed.
For his part, Beal can rest assured knowing his omission was as much the product of pecking order as it was positional depth. Indeed, with James Harden, Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan in the fold, Beal would’ve needed a Dwyane Wade-like leap to justify his inclusion.
With their summer slates now open, the two can turn their attention to the task at hand: further asserting themselves as the NBA’s best backcourt.
Fresh off a 44-win season that ended in a conference semifinals defeat at the hands of the Indiana Pacers, the Wizards are looking to reclaim a status unfamiliar to the long-moribund franchise: conference contender.
In adding the 37-year-old Paul Pierce, Washington did well to bolster its veteran clout. To truly become a conference threat, however, demands Wall and Beal tap into whatever next-level leap is lying in wait below the surface.
Put more simply, another step on par with what SB Nation’s Mike Prada saw as the duo’s inevitable coming out party a season ago.
The only obstacle stopping the duo from reaching this point was time. Time for the two to mature. Time for the two to learn how to lead instead of just thriving individually. Time for the two to round out their games and fine-tune their preparation. If you ask members of the Wizards, they'll say this has been a long process that began two and a half years ago when the team abandoned ship on their less mature youngsters and traded them in for able-bodied veterans. The tough work since then has prepared the two young guards for this moment.
In the case of Wall and Beal, the “tough work” is the work they weren’t allowed to do: helping Team USA capture gold in Spain.
Viewed through a certain pedagogical prism, the two’s exclusion could prove a better boon down the road than had they made the final cut. For the simple fact that only when one’s abilities have been so critically questioned can the process of self-reflection—of asking why you fell short and what there is to do about it—can begin in earnest.
With Wall, the directives are clear: Improve your jump shot; limit your turnovers. Once those boxes are marked, the only thing left to check will be his baggage for the flight to Russia two years from now.
For Beal, the appeal is more temporal: Keep working, because your time is nigh.
As the summer fades into fall and the start of team training camps, there are bound to be myriad mentions of Washington’s backcourt duo—of how last year’s success benefits the Wizards, and where their team’s ceiling stands to be.
More specifically, the previews and prognostications are certain to include mention of the two's summer slight. All of which, if you’re the Wizards, qualifies as bulletin-board material.
After all, there’s no better way to stoke an angry fire than by piling on more paper.
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