While most of America's basketball conscious was focused on a dunk in Ohio that may (or may not) still be documented on videotape, the best hoops story of the summer was unfolding in New Zealand.
Amercia's 19 and Under (known as U-19) Men's Basketball team won the U-19 World Championships for the first time since 1991. On the surface, this doesn't sound like that great an accomplishment. We expect our national teams to win every basketball tournament they enter.
But consider the following...
1) Team USA was made up entirely of college players while the teams they opposed were composed almost entirely of young professional players.
2) For most of the world, this in the premier youth basketball tournament. Most countries' basketball federations spend close to two years planning for this tournament. Their players are used to playing together. Team USA assembled their roster last month.
3) Of the six players who won "Freshman of the Year" in a BCS conference last year, only Terrico White of Ole' Miss was on the roster. Talented players like Georgetown's Greg Monroe, UConn's Kemba Walker and Wake Forest's El-Farouk Aminu were among the group of 22 players who declined invitations to try out for the team.
4) Despite everything working against them, Team USA went 9-0 in New Zealand, winning by an average of 22.2 points per game.
Still think this championship was no big deal?
This is far more than just a feel good story. This championship has impacted the basketball community both domestically and globally. We have learned three things from the U-19 World Championship.
1) USA Basketball is once again the greatest organization in the world
The days of Team USA being able to get by on sheer talent officially ended when the senior team limped to a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics. Luckily, Jerry Colangelo and the rest of USA Basketball's brain trust caught on.
The team we sent to the 2008 Olympics was built in stark contrast to the 2004 squad. The 2008 team was built with players who not only were well suited for playing under international rules, they were guys who embraced the opportunity to represent the United States.
Much like the 2008 Olympic team, the 2009 U-19 team was filled with high-character kids who were built to excel under the FIBA rules. Legendary Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was in charge of selecting the roster and he built a team predicated on perimeter quickness, with less of an emphasis on size, and it worked brilliantly.
2) Jamie Dixon is a hell of a basketball coach.
Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon was selected as a last minute replacement for Davidson coach Bob Mckilliop and, boy, was that a good move. Dixon, who was assisted by Purdue's Matt Painter and Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery, played to his team's strengths.
Team USA played this tournament at a breakneck pace. The 78 possessions per game averaged by the Red, White, and Blue would have made them the second quickest team in college basketball last season.
Jamie Dixon's Pitt teams have never played anything close to that style. Neither have any of Painter's Purdue teams nor Lowery's SIU teams. For the coaching staff to make this kind of adjustment outside of their comfort zone to fit their personnel is remarkable.
It was an adjustment that wasn't lost on the players, who, to a man, repeatedly praised the coaching staff throughout the tournament.
The way Jamie Dixon handled this team hs to be very encouraging to Pitt fans whose entire rotation is in flux heading into next season. The U-19 World Basketball Championships proved that Jamie Dixon can find a way to win with any hand he's been dealt.
This time of year is always interesting as college coaches are able to watch high school prospects without directly contacting them. Because of the no-contact rule, coaches attend AAU tournaments and other showcases trying to find a way to silently make their presences known.
Dixon, Painter and Lowery are now able to stand out by showing up at these events with gold medals around their necks. Good luck recruiting against that.
3) A lot of young players grew up this summer.
Fans from Kansas and Pitt have to be ecstatic about how this tournament unfolded.
Rising Kansas sophomore Tyshawn Taylor averaged 10.8 PPG en route to the tournament's most outstanding player award. While Sherron Collins will be the first scoring option for the Jayhawks, Taylor has proved he is more than capable of handling the load if Collins is having an off night. This is a huge development for a team with national title aspirations.
Pitt's guard Ashton Gibbs, also a rising sophomore, will have the unenviable task of replacing Levance Fields at point guard next season. The same Levance Fields who holds the school records in assists and wins.
If the better than 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio Gibbs had during the tournament is any indication of things to come, Pitt fans will have one less hole to worry about next year.
For Gibbs to run the show as reliably as he did given the up and down nature of Team USA's play was very impressive. If he can further develop his point guard skills to go along with his already deadly jumper, then Ashton Gibbs will be a force to be reckoned with in the Big East for years to come.
Whether it be the fact that this tournament took place on the other side of the world or the fact that we still have yet to fully embrace Team USA in our current basketball climate, this story ended up taking a backseat to Lebron getting dunked on and the ongoing Rickey Rubio saga.
What Team USA accomplished was remarkable. The fact that nobody really noticed is sad. Hopefully, over time, everyone involved with the U-19 team will get the respect they deserve.
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