31 August, 2019
15 September
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Can experience and success on the junior level help the USA in the World Cup?

Colorado Springs (United States) - Seven of the 15 players in the USA preliminary squad have won at the junior level. Will that success help them win in China? 

"That's always been a challenge with USA junior national team basketball," Davidson College head coach Bob McKillop told FIBA.basketball. "You have so many stars coming together for the first time and it's the first time that they are playing on a team with a lot of stars."

He wasn't talking about the current players in the USA training camp that will determine the final roster for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 but he might as well have been.

McKillop was mentoring future two-time World Cup participant Stephen Curry at Davidson when he was named head coach of the USA's 2008 FIBA Americas U18 team. It wasn't his first time working with USA Basketball. He was an assistant coach on a 2002 Junior World Championship Qualifying Team that included Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Andre Iguodala among other future NBA stars.

From 2008 though, he recalls an "undersized" player who left a big impression named Kemba Walker.

Kemba Walker (Photo courtesy of USA Basketball)

"The first thing I remember about him is that there were lots of stars on that team, yet he never perceived himself as a star. He had tremendous humility," McKillop said.

Walker would evolve as a leader of that team and be named MVP of the tournament even as the USA finished second to Argentina. He is now one of seven players in the 15 now in Las Vegas who have represented the U.S. on the junior level in FIBA competitions from U16 to U20, along with Jaylen Brown, Mason Plumlee, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, P.J. Tucker, and Myles Turner.

Bob McKillop (bottom row with ball), Kemba Walker (#4), Mason Plumlee (#15) with the USA 2008 FIBA Americas U18 team (Photo courtesy of USA Basketball)

Eleven years later, Walker is a three-time NBA All-Star coming off his best season and his first All-NBA nod. But he and five others who have played for the U.S. as teenagers are hoping for their first senior caps. Plumlee is the only one to have represented on both the senior and junior levels having played in the FIBA World Cup 2014.

USA Preliminary Squad members with Junior Experience 
Jaylen Brown FIBA U18 Americas Championship 2014  Gold
Mason Plumlee FIBA U18 Americas Championship 2008 Silver
Jayson Tatum FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2015
FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2014
FIBA U16 Americas Championship 2013
Marcus Smart FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2013
FIBA U18 Americas Championship 2012
P.J. Tucker FIBA U20 Americas Championship 2004 Gold
Myles Turner FIBA U18 Americas Championship 2014 Gold
Kemba Walker FIBA U18 Americas Championship 2008 Silver + MVP

An oft-heard remark in the basketball springtime, when contenders are separated from pretenders is how the Play-Offs are so much different than the Regular Season. Championship teams must get through the season but they are built for the Play-Offs.

There is no Regular Season when it comes to international competition, where every game matters for medal hunting teams.

While talent is essential, one of the critical building blocks for success is experience, especially for a team like the United States where the ability to adapt from NBA to FIBA rules is still necessary when taking on talented opponents more conditioned to them.

Of the 15 players attending the USA training camp this week, only three - Harrison Barnes, Kyle Lowry and Plumlee - have represented previously on the senior level. Barnes and Lowry won an Olympic gold medal with the Americans at Rio 2016 while Plumlee was on 2014 USA World Cup Team that finished 9-0 and won the gold medal. 

By comparison, of the 16 players named in Spain's preliminary squad, all have represented on two or more junior teams and only four haven't played at the senior level.

How much this matters remains to be seen. Despite recent success as the two-time defending champions, the World Cup has been a harder target for the Americans with only five titles in 17 tries.

As the USA's 2014 World Cup winning squad went, five had previous senior team experience. Stephen Curry, Rudy Gay and Derrick Rose were the only holdovers from the 2010 gold medalists while Anthony Davis and James Harden brought their 2012 Olympic experience.

Others had worn the red, white and blue though as juniors. Drummond brought his familiarity from winning the FIBA U17 World Cup in 2010 and the 2009 FIBA Americas U16 title, while Kyrie Irving earned gold at the 2010 FIBA Americas championship. Mason Plumlee had been on the 2008 FIBA Americas team with Walker.

For DeMarcus Cousins, DeMar DeRozan, Kenneth Faried, and Klay Thompson, it was their first time on the international stage.

Faried proved that experience isn't everything as in 2014. He found the pace and physicality of the global game much to his liking and played his way into the World Cup All-Tournament Team, along with Irving, France's Nicolas Batum, Spain's Pau Gasol and Serbia's Milos Teodosic.