Some people may not realize this, but the reason that the Dream Team was called the Dream Team was because it was the first time that that much basketball talent was amassed on the same roster.
Before 1992, professional basketball players were not sent to the Olympics. It was the college kids that went. But that all changed in 1992, after a team led by David Robinson, Mitch Richmond and Danny Manning took home the 1988 bronze medal. And outside of a blip more than a decade ago, the U.S. has taken back control of international basketball regardless of what the ill-informed want to tell you after the 2016 NBA Draft.
But what happens if we went back to college players? Would that team be able to compete?
Here’s the roster that we came up with to send to Rio if pros were not allowed in the Olympics. What changes would you make? And is there any chance that this team would medal?
HEAD COACH: Mike Krzyzewski, Duke: Coach K is the guy that’s turned around the USA Basketball program in the last decade. Why wouldn’t we leave him in charge, especially when the roster that he brings with him to the Olympics is going to feature a handful of his players?
Markelle Fultz, Washington: Fultz is an amazing story. The 6-foot-4 point guard went from being on DeMatha’s junior varsity as a sophomore to the potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. He’s got size, athleticism and three-point range, but he also has a tremendous understanding of how to change speeds to get to the rim. Starting a freshman at the point guard spot is super-risky in an event like this, but if Fultz really is that dude — as many bright minds in the basketball community believe that he is — then he should be just fine.
Grayson Allen, Duke: As hard as it would be for some Americans to wrap their head around rooting for Allen, he’s probably the most qualified player in the country to find a spot on this roster. A potential first round pick last season, Allen averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 assists while shooting 41.7 percent from three for the Blue Devils as a sophomore. He can spread the floor with his ability to shoot, he can attack defenders off the dribble and he’s athletic and strong enough that he won’t be totally overpowered by older opponents.
Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart is in line for a monster senior season. He averaged 22 points as the Wildcats went 3-0 against Spanish competition on their foreign tour just weeks after he was one of the best players on the floor at the Nike Skills Academy. His jumper is ugly but it goes in enough that it has to be respected, and he’s as tough and as physical as any small forward you’ll find. He’ll let K play smaller because of his ability to compete on the glass. I’m not sure he’ll end up being a great pro, but I do think he’d be a perfect fit on this team.
Josh Jackson, Kansas: Jackson is Andrew Wiggins, only with a little more dog in him. Wiggins, as a rookie in the NBA, averaged 16.9 points. Jackson should be just fine in this setting. What will be interesting, however, is how effective he could be playing at the four. The thing that makes Jackson so dangerous in this role is that he’ll compete hard and he happens to be an excellent rebounder for his size. With him and Hart at the forward spots, Team USA would become hard to guard while still being able to hold their own on the defensive glass.
Thomas Bryant, Indiana: Where as it was difficult for us to make decisions on which guards and wings to cut, deciding which front court players to pick was by far the most difficult. None of the big men in college are going to be good enough to hold their own against the grown men that have played professionally for a decade populating the other rosters. Bryant gets the start for three reasons: He can block shots, he can make FIBA threes and he’ll play his tail off, even if he still is very much a work in progress when it comes to learning how to play.
- Monte’ Morris, Iowa State: Veteran leadership off the bench. Morris is not going to make mistakes but he’s talented enough to have a positive impact on a game. Made it over Frank Mason.
- Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State: After Smith’s performance at Adidas Nations earlier this month, our fears about his ACL recovery have been assuaged. He’s a big, dynamic point guard with the chance to be a terrific defender. He was long considered the best point guard in a 2016 recruiting class that is loaded at that position, and if it wasn’t for an ACL tear and Fultz becoming a sensation, he probably still would be.
- Jayson Tatum, Duke: Tatum is a smooth 6-foot-9 wing that has experience in international competitions already. He can basically fill the same position as a Josh Hart or a Josh Jackson, but he’s better than either of them on the offensive end of the floor at this point.
- V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame: Beachem’s name may look weird on this list, but it’ll make more sense as the season progresses and we see what he can do with opportunity. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 senior wing that is a sniper from distance.
- Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson: Blossomgame made the cut for us over Nigel Hayes and Malcolm Hill as a combo-forward off the bench. He’s the best athlete and defender of the three and he shot it the best from three last season. He’ll gladly play a role as well.
- Harry Giles III, Duke: At full health, Giles would probably be a starter for this team. But coming off of surgery for a torn ACL, something he needed in both knees as a high schooler, it’s hard to know just how ready he’d be at this point. His versatility allows this group to play big by putting him at the four or to go with a small-ball lineup with him at the five.
- Austin Nichols, Virginia: I think Nichols is in line for an all-american season. A former five-star recruit, he averaged 13.3 points, 6.7 boards and 3.4 blocks as a sophomore for Memphis before spending a year redshirting at Virginia, where Tony Bennett drilled into his head how to be fundamentally elite. He boards, he blocks shots, he scores in the post and he’s old. He’s a great rotation big for this situation.