Could D-Leaguers be playing for Team USA soon? – USA TODAY

Posted: Monday, March 10, 2014

Imagine USA Basketball and other top basketball nations trying to qualify for the FIBA World Cup of Basketball without access to their best players.

That’s exactly what will happen when national teams begin playing home-and-home qualifying games in 2017 for the 2019 World Cup.

National basketball federations knew FIBA was moving toward a FIFA-style qualifying system used for soccer’s World Cup, but it wasn’t revealed until recently that some of the six FIBA World Cup qualifying windows will coincide with NBA training camps, regular-season play and possibly the postseason.

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That all but eliminates NBA players – and likely college players – from playing World Cup qualifiers during some of the windows.

“We’ll take it step-by-step and do the best we can,” USA Basketball executive director and CEO Jim Tooley said. “A lot of countries have questions. We’re all trying to figure this out.”

After the 2017 continental championships, national teams will start qualifying for the 2019 World Cup in November of 2017 with home-and-home games. For instance, the United States could play a team in a home game one weekend in November and a road game against the same team the following weekend.

That will continue with home-and-home qualifying windows in February, June, September and November of 2018 and in February of 2019.

FIBA altered its World Cup qualifying for multiple reasons:

  • It wants to increase the visibility of basketball around the world with more countries (140) and players participating in World Cup qualifiers.
  • Each country will play host to six games, allowing each federation to showcase meaningful games on its home soil.
  • Reduce the number of games players play for their national team – a small nod to NBA and club owners who don’t like the idea of the players they pay getting injured during international games.
  • More players are exposed to national team play.

“The best thing we could offer to all of our members is games, and it will be a great tool to promote the games in the country,” FIBA spokesman Patrick Koller said.

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Tooley said, “I follow the rationale to get more involvement, more countries playing. I like that. That’s easy to understand and easy to support. FIBA realizes there’s going to be some growing pains to get this format perfected. FIBA has a long-term view that in order to grow the game, there might need to be a step back to go two ahead.”

In soccer, pro leagues around the world take a break for World Cup qualifying. It’s called the international break, where England’s Premier League stops play so its national team can play, say Spain, in a qualifier. Spain’s La Liga takes a break, too, so the two nations can play a home-and-home series in the span of a week and have access to their top players.

The NBA does not plan on taking such a break to allow its players to participate, but FIBA will try to convince other pro leagues to take a break during qualifying windows which fall during the season.

Before fretting about the USA or another international basketball power not making the World Cup, the number of teams for the event will increase to 32 in 2019, and seven teams from the FIBA Americas region, which includes the USA, will qualify.

Even without its very best players, the USA should be able to qualify. With that said, it will be interesting to see how national teams compose rosters.

“During those six windows, it’s unlikely the 12 players in window one will be the same players in window two or window six,” Tooley said. “We’ll have to figure out which players we go to. Is it younger NBA players? Is it (NBA Development League) players? Or is it Americans playing in Europe? Is it college players? I think it’s going to be a combination all of those options to field our team.”

Using college players in November and February seems unlikely. Even if it were possible to schedule a qualifying game where a player from Kansas would be available, how willing would Jayhawks coach Bill Self be to let a player participate in one of those games when he’s trying to win a conference and national championship?

D-League players and Americans playing overseas might be the best option for some games.

“We have to look at everything,” Tooley said.


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