DONGGUAN, China — USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said Thursday that when the time comes to start assembling the 2020 Tokyo Olympics roster, he won’t forget those who backed out of commitments to play in the World Cup this summer.
Of the 35 players originally selected for the U.S. player pool, only four are in China for the FIBA World Cup. The U.S. lost to France in the quarterfinals, ending a streak of seven major international tournaments — four Olympics and three World Cups — where the Americans captured a medal, the last five of them being gold.
“I can only say, you can’t help but notice and remember who you thought you were going to war with and who didn’t show up,” Colangelo said. “I’m a firm believer that you deal with the cards you’re dealt. All we could have done, and we did it, is get the commitments from a lot of players. So with that kind of a hand, you feel reasonably confident that you’re going to be able to put a very good representative team on the court.
“No one would have anticipated the pullouts that we had.”
The U.S. lost again to Serbia on Thursday and will finish no better than seventh — the worst finish by an American men’s team in a major tournament. The previous worst was sixth at the 2002 world championships.
The coaches with this World Cup team insist this group deserved better, in terms of return on effort invested.
“It’s a great, great group of guys who are competing,” U.S. assistant coach Steve Kerr said. “They’ve been so committed to each other and the process. You take a lot of pride in that and you’re disappointed for them, but this is life.”
Many players cited schedule concerns as a reason to not play this summer, while others are dealing with injuries and some are acclimating in advance of joining new teams when training camps start in less than three weeks. The new international schedule is a challenge as well, with the World Cup and the Olympics in consecutive offseasons for the first time since 1967 and 1968.
More than 50 players were part of the U.S. World Cup plan at one point or another. Of those, 12 went to China, two got cut after the first week of training camp — and the other three dozen or so dropped out on their own.
“We’re going to let the dust settle, let things depress a little bit,” Colangelo said. “Obviously I’m always thinking ahead, which means what’s going to take place, and it’s going to happen fast and soon because we just have to get our act together for the Olympics.”
The U.S. will go to Tokyo seeking a fourth consecutive gold medal, and getting stars to play on the Olympic team is rarely a problem. The World Cup team wasn’t exactly loaded with superstars. Only two of the 12 U.S. players on the World Cup roster were NBA All-Stars last season, whereas nine of the 12 players on the 2016 Olympic team were coming off All-Star appearances.
Colangelo felt ankle injuries sustained by Jayson Tatum during the World Cup and Kyle Kuzma just before the tournament hurt the U.S. chances in China, noting that the team felt Kuzma was going to be a big help. Colangelo insisted that he didn’t fault the effort of the players who made the commitment this summer.
“The players did everything they can do,” Colangelo said. “They are a good group of guys. But we went in with higher expectations in terms of roster and it didn’t kind of happen the way we were hopeful and anticipating and expecting. That, to me, was a big disappointment.”
Colangelo also expressed disappointment for coach Gregg Popovich, who will also lead the Tokyo-bound team next summer. Popovich missed out on making the 1972 Olympic team as a player and was an assistant coach on the 2002 world championship and 2004 Olympic teams that failed to win gold medals.
“I told Pop I felt really bad for him because I wanted him to have a chance to win a gold medal after his experience with USA Basketball in the past,” Colangelo said. “But it wasn’t meant to be in this competition.”
So now, his eyes are turning to Tokyo.
It won’t take long for the recruiting process to start either.
“Going forward for USA Basketball, we’re going to need the cooperation of teams, agents, and then there has to be communication with players one-on-one to solidify those commitments,” Colangelo said. “I am going to be anxious to see how many players reach out early to indicate that they wish and want and desire to play.
“But I’ll make this statement: It’s as much about maybe who we don’t want as much as who we want.”