More information on the team, the tryouts, the competition and everything else you could ask for can be found at the excellent USABasketball.com official site.
The team is made up of a mix of former and potentially future NBA players like Tyus Edney, Jerome Beasley and Charlie Bell, with other players who played in Europe, the CBA, NBDL and even two players from the Korean league. Team USA, who are entering a new era under Jerry Colangelo (present here), decided not to take NBA stars this time around as they will only have to finish in 4th place (at worst) out of 10 teams in the FIBA Americas tournament to qualify for the World Championship next summer in Japan. While this isnt the most talented group of players to ever wear the American uniform, it is talented enough to accomplish the goal of qualifying and probably even finish with a medal in the Dominican Republic this summer.
The other teams participating will be Brazil (with 3 NBA players in Leandro Barbosa, Anderson Varejao and Rafael Araujo, as well as future NBA player Tiago Splitter), Canada (without Steve Nash), Panama (and Jamie Lloreda), Venezuela, Argentina (who has already qualified via the Olympics and will be sending a B team), the Dominican Republic (with 2 NBA players in Luis Flores and Francisco Garcia), Mexico (possibly with Eduardo Najera), Puerto Rico (with Jose Juan Barea and Peter John Ramos) and Uruguay.
The first day of practices focused mostly on skill oriented drills to prepare the players for the style of play they are likely to encounter, along with the usual drills we see at places like the Chicago pre-draft camp to let the staff know what kind of talent they have available to them and to help the players familiarize themselves with each other. Full-court scrimmages were conducted and tactics were already being formed and put in place by the coaching staff through a variety of plays which were intended to utilize the strengths of the different players on the team.
Its fairly obvious that the biggest strength of this team lies in the fact that it has a number of talented and experienced ball-handling guards who can push the ball up and down the floor quickly and find the open man unselfishly. The athleticism of the squad will be taken advantage of as it appears that they will utilize a full-court press for stretches of the game. The team was initially supposed to made up of 16 players, but injuries and cancellations have naturally trimmed it down to 12 for now, with only 11 participating in the scrimmage today against the rookies and free agents of the Miami Heat. 7 footer Ernest Brown suffered a stress facture and has left the team, while Tang Hamilton, Joe Shipp, Jimmie Hunter and Corsley Edwards never made it to Miami. The lack of a true center was quite obvious today, and it appears that Aaron McGhee, Kris Lang, Noel Felix, and maybe even Jerome Beasley will have to rotate at the 5 spot depending on the matchup Team USA faces.
The best players over the first two days so far have been Tyus Edney and Alex Scales.
Tyus Edney- The 5-10, 32 year old Edney is a player that, despite his size, is impossible not to notice in his time on the floor. He dominates the game in everything he does, wreaking havoc on both ends of the court with his exciting mix of quickness, confidence, smarts and heart. His natural basketball instincts are always on full display, whether its finding the smallest holes in the defense to explode past on his way to the basket, making incredibly tough passes through multiple defenders look easy for an easy layup for his teammate, breaking down his man mercilessly time after time or by coming up with one steal after another by sniffing out plays before they happen and barging into the passing lanes.
Although it might be too early in the game to say for sure, this team looks like it will probably go as far as Edney will take it. He is by far the most experienced player here, in terms of age (5 years older than the next player down) but also in what he has accomplished over his career so far, and he already seems to have taken the reigns as the floor general and natural leader of this team. His quickness is still outstanding, while his ball-handling skills, as evidenced by the full-court press drills where Edney was double teamed time after time in the backcourt and just yo-yoed his way through the defense, are top-notch for any level of play. His height (5-10), and relative lack of a consistent outside shot are what kept him out of the NBA for all these years, but watching him play even at age 32, you have to wonder if that was a mistake...
Charlie Bell- Bell was bothered by a bum ankle in the first day, and his jumper wasnt really falling for him. He did show off very nice ball-handling skills and passing ability, though, enough to lead you to believe that he has the ability to play the point in spurts if needed because of how comfortable he looks with the ball in his hands.
Bell sat out the scrimmage against the Heat today after tweaking his ankle, and is hoping to be healthy for another scrimmage with Miami tomorrow. As initially reported over a month ago, Bell will indeed be signed by the Milwaukee Bucks. According to Bell, the holdup with his contract being announced is because of the way the cap holds are set up, Milwaukee needs to sign its other free agents like Bobby Simmons first and Toni Kukoc. That can only mean that he will indeed sign for the minimum.
Alex Scales- Scales was the best player on the floor for either team in the scrimmage against the Heat. From the drills it was obvious that hes an extremely intelligent combo guard who clearly knows how to play the game, exactly the type of player you want to have on a team like this. Hes a scrappy guy who gets by on very little and always seems to place himself in the right place at the right time. He makes great decisions and plays excellent defense and gets his hands on a lot of balls.
In the scrimmage itself he was the player who shouldered much of the scoring load for Team USA, knocking down shot after shot from mid-range and from beyond the arc, showing a quick trigger and very nice elevation on his jump shot. He also scored a couple of baskets simply by placing himself in the right spot to make a play, either in transition moving off the ball, on the offensive glass off tip ins or defensively coming up with steals. His off the ball movement is a thing of beauty, as he is constantly in motion on every single possession, using his teammates to shield him and losing his man time after time to free himself up. Hes a terrific passer and generally has a very high basketball IQ. Some NBA types might call him a tweener, as at 6-3 he probably isnt quite tall enough to be a SG and doesnt have the experience to run the point full time. Regardless of what they say, though, the guy can flat out play.
When asked where he will be playing next year, Scales emphatically said with a big smile on his face: the NBA. He seems like a very personable guy who has been around the block a few times and doesnt take anything for granted. Scales mentioned that he has been approached by a few teams regarding next year already, including the Spurs, Cavs and Sonics amongst others. Coincidentally, the Assistant GM of the Spurs, Sam Presti, just happened to be here for both days so far to check out the action. Wherever he plays next season, Scales is going to make some team very happy that they decided to sign him. Hes a basketball player in the truest sense.
Noel Felix- A guy who did anything but catch our eye with the way he played in the Vegas Summer League has done just that with the work hes put in over the first two days here so far. While hes listed at 6-9, he plays much bigger than that due to his bulk, athleticism, strength, and excellent wingspan. Felix runs the floor like a man possessed, and gets off the floor in an instant to challenge shots on the defensive end. He sets good screens, plays tough man to man defense and does a good job cleaning up the glass. His offense is extremely unpolished, showing limited range on his jumpshot and a raw looking jump hook that sometimes falls for him. Hes at his best when hes roaming around collecting garbage points around the hoop and making his presence felt defensively and on the glass. Felix will probably never be more than a marginal NBA player, but hes perfect for a squad like this. At age 23 hes still young, though, so we definitely cant rule out improving over the next few years. He shows the right attitude and stayed after practice to work on his jumpshot with Alex Scales.
Jerome Beasley- Beasley is clearly one of the most talented players on this squad, especially amongst the big men, but hes struggled a bit to find a comfort level and a specific role on the team so far. Defensively is where hes had the hardest time so far, especially finding his man off screens and knowing when to rotate and help out, although this has a lot to do with the chemistry of the squad overall. His man-to-man hasnt been stellar either, though. His face-up game is absolutely terrific and hes shown a wide array of skills again and again both in the scrimmages and during the drills; including excellent ball-handling skills and good range on his jumper. Beasley is a versatile PF who can post up his man or face him up and beat him either off the dribble or with the mid-range jumper. He loves the kiss the ball off the glass and has a certain elegance to his game that just cant be taught. Beasley says he is weighing some huge offers from overseas (weve heard of one huge one from instant millionaires Hapoel Jerusalem) while at the same time gauging his NBA options to see what makes sense for him in terms of guaranteed money.
Ron Slay- Slay has been a bit of a disappointment here so far, at least from what I saw out of him in Vegas during the Summer league. Team USA will need him to get his stuff together by the time the tournament starts because theyll need everything he has to offer from the 3 spot. Slay still started in the scrimmage, but looked pretty out of sync with the rest of his teammates and had a hard time making his presence felt on the floor. He was mostly hanging out on the perimeter, not moving off the ball particularly well and struggling a bit defensively as well. Slay is mostly an 18 feet and in type guy who excels as a mismatch type using his strength to beat smaller guys from the 3 spot and his athleticism to beat bigger and slower guys from the 4 spot. He hasnt had a chance to do that so far, but its still early for him.
Wayne Simien- Simien didnt have too much to prove here today, but he still left a pretty good overall impression by the end. He was taking mostly base-line jumpers in the first half, not hitting too many of them, but balancing himself out later on from other spots on the floor. He showed off his excellent hands once against and used his strength well to box his man out and come up with rebounds. Hes a very strong player, but seems to prefer to fade out to the perimeter to take lower percentage shots. His man to man defense was not very impressive, but his passing skills certainly were.
Matt Walsh- Walsh had a pretty mediocre first half going up against Alex Scales. His outside jump-shot wasnt falling for him at all, he struggled creating for himself off the dribble, over-handling at times and had a tough time fighting through screens and staying in front of the extremely active Alex Scales. Walsh got himself back into the game, though, partially thanks to an outstanding move at the end of the first half. Walsh jab-stepped his man with a few seconds left on the clock from behind the arc, leading his man left before sharply pulling the ball behind his back right to pull-up for a beautiful fade-away three pointer which he swished as the buzzer sounded. In the 2nd half Walsh moved off the ball a little better and knocked down a number of shots from behind the arc. When he wasnt stroking it he ran the pick and roll with both Wayne Simien and Earl Barron continuously, usually with great success. He showed very nice chemistry with Simien especially.
Earl Barron- Barron played to rave reviews at the Summer Pro League in Long Beach and has since been signed to a partially guaranteed contract by the Heat. If today was any indication, Pat Riley and Randy Pfund really know what they are doing when it comes to mining diamonds in the rough like this. Barron is an above average athlete for his size who plays hard and generally seems to be fairly skilled with some room to grow in the future. The best part of his game is definitely his sweet mid-range shot, Barron scored a good 15-20 points off of it today alone. He would come off of screen after screen, catch the ball from 16-18 feet out and just swish it every single time, regardless of whether he had a man in his face or not. With the way he looked running the pick, it was pretty hard not to think of fellow Heat center Michael Doleac every time he knocked down a shot.
Beyond his jump-shot, though, Barron has a lot of room for improvement. His footwork around the basket is close to non-existent, and overall he seems to be pretty raw in the post. Although he tries pretty hard to play defense and hit the glass, hes got a ways to go in his area, at least to play some minutes under Stan Van Gundy.
Gerald Fitch- Fitch had an outstanding game today, continuing right where he left off when we last saw him in Vegas about a month ago. He was attacking the basket relentlessly, getting by his man and finishing time after time and complimenting that with a barrage of three pointers from all over the floor. When Fitch gets hot, he can score with the best of them, and today was one of those days. He isnt the purest PG in the world, but there are a lot of coaches out there who can live with the way he plays, especially as a 3rd guard off the bench. If Damon Jones leaves the Heat, Fitchs outside shooting, slashing and defense could very well be a nice insurance policy for Stan Van Gundy and the Heat.
Jamaal Levy- Levy appeared to be the most athletic player on the floor today for either squad, being extremely active on the offensive glass and looking particularly impressive in the pre-game warm-ups with the dunks he was pulling it off. Once the game started, though, you could tell that he is still a ways away from accomplishing his potential and finding a position for himself at the NBA level. He has very little game off the dribble and his jumpshot is still a work in progress. He is incredibly long and has great size for the SF position (think Tayshaun Prince), but hes a tweener at this point who is still figuring out the game. Hed be a great player for the NBDL.
Eddy Fobbs- Another outstanding athlete with a terrific wingpspan, Fobbs is even further away at this point from looking like an NBA player. Right now, his hands arent great, he doesnt have too much in terms of skills offensively and he looks a bit clueless running up and down the floor. With his size, length and freakish vertical leap, hes a guy to keep tabs on over the next few years, though.