U.S. roster has size emphasis

  • Marc Stein [ARCHIVE]
  • ESPN.com | August 23, 2014

NEW YORK -- After relying so heavily on speed and athleticism in its last two major tournaments, USA Basketball officials have put an unexpected emphasis on size in its final player selections by choosing Andre Drummond to fill the last spot on a 12-man roster.

USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, in explaining the selections made official early Saturday morning, told ESPN.com before the team's afternoon flight to Spain that keeping Drummond -- along with DeMarcus Cousins and Mason Plumlee -- gives coach Mike Krzyzewski "an opportunity to throw a new look at people."

The inclusion of Drummond, Cousins and Plumlee, along with starters Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried, all but assures that Krzyzewski will occasionally use lineups at the forthcoming FIBA World Cup that feature Davis or Plumlee at power forward next to a more traditional center.

"This gives us an opportunity to do some things we haven't had a chance to do in the past," Colangelo said. "It's true that the preferred style of play [in recent years] has been going small, but you have to ask: Was that by choice or by necessity?

"Early on [this summer], we said it would be hard to carry four bigs, but that was kind of put on the shelf. Certainly there won't be any discussion going forward about, 'What are you going to do about bigs, what are you going to do about playing teams with size?' If Coach wishes to show a big front line, he now has the capacity to do so."

Drummond and DeMar DeRozan claimed the last two roster spots alongside starters Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Faried and Davis. The other reserves are Derrick Rose, Cousins, Klay Thompson, Rudy Gay and Plumlee.

Team USA relied heavily on its small-ball prowess at both the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey and the 2012 Olympics in London to win both titles.

It was initially presumed that this group would lean on its perimeter stalwarts even more than those teams did -- especially after the July withdrawals of Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Andre Drummond, Coach K
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesU.S. basketball officials hope that the inclusion of Andre Drummond on the FIBA World Cup roster will allow the Americans to match up in the front court with international powerhouse Spain, which features the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka.

But USAB officials decided in recent days that they simply couldn't resist carrying Drummond, especially with a potential rematch with Spain and its imposing frontcourt of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka looming in the Sept. 14 championship game.

"[Drummond] is a blossoming center in the NBA," Colangelo said. "He's just a kid, but he's come a long way in a very short period of time. We see him as a big part of our future. It's a little bit similar to Anthony Davis getting his opportunity in London.

"Maybe it kind of catches people by surprise. Yes he's young, but a 7-foot, 280-pound guy who can run the floor the way Drummond runs and who protects the rim ... when you describe all the physical attributes, that's a hard call to leave a guy at home."

Even the selections of Gay and DeRozan -- over the likes of Kyle Korver, Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward -- proved to be somewhat size-based.

Gay had a minor role on the 2010 squad and didn't join this team until mid-August as Durant's 11th-hour replacement, but he forced his way into the chosen dozen regardless with the ability to play the power positions internationally as well as small forward.

"Rudy keeps getting better," Krzyzewski said after Friday night's exhibition victory over Puerto Rico.

Regarding DeRozan, Gay's former Toronto teammate, Colangelo added: "He's an athlete, he's versatile and he's shown really well. He just beat out a few people. He can not only play two positions but, against certain international teams, he can play even against bigger guys."

The other tough call, Colangelo said, was removing Portland's Damian Lillard from the roster. But as Krzyzewski explained at his postgame press conference Friday, USAB officials made the decision to take only 12 players to Spain instead of flying overseas with 13 and then sending one player all the way back Aug. 29, when 12-man rosters for the FIBA World Cup must be made official.

Once Rose made it clear in the Puerto Rico game that he's healthy enough to stay with Team USA, there was no room for Lillard, who didn't play a single second against Puerto Rico.

"We're comfortable [with Rose's readiness] based on what we're being told by people around Derrick and what we're being told by Derrick himself," Colangelo said. "He says he feels great and that there's not going to be any issues going forward. So we're going with it. We're riding with that.

"We think we have enough people that can handle the ball that we're in pretty good shape there anyway."

Krzyzewski, meanwhile, continues to say that serving as a role player for Team USA, as opposed to waiting until Chicago Bulls training camp in October to aggressively launch his comeback after two serious knee injuries, is going to be a "huge, huge help" for Rose.

"I feel very confident about Derrick," Krzyzewski said after a week of coast-to-coast fretting about the court time Rose missed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. "I think Derrick feels very confident. And these guys want to play with him. That's part of getting back ... to be around a group of your peers."

The rash of pullouts and Paul George's horrific compound leg fracture suffered in an intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 1 has forced Team USA, in Krzyzewski's words, to "develop a new chemistry" in short order.

It's a process that will continue throughout each of the Americans' five games in pool play in a very favorable Group C, which will serve in some ways as an extension of the team's two training camps in the States given this group's lack of international experience.

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