5. Money…Back when I first came overseas, it was unheard of that a native player would be making more money than an American. There was no way unless the native player was a National Team player, but even then, that was more the exception than the rule. These days, however, it is not uncommon that native players earn more than American players. The rise of the native players has driven the salaries for American players down for some time now. Teams are much more selective with their foreign spots and they are also scouting much better than they have in the past.
6. Youth development…I spent time in Valencia last June. They have a Euroleague team and are consistently a powerhouse in European youth basketball. I was astounded by the amount of money they invest in their youth program. Of course the more money you invest, the better coaches you can hire, the better facilities you can build, etc. In Europe, youth academies are all the rage now. Europeans have figured out it is cheaper to build talent through the youth system rather than always pick finished pros from other places and that fact has been attributed to Point 5 above.
7. Systems…In general, Americans are waaaay more athletic than European athletes. Europeans have adapted to make the game better for their style of play. More importance is being placed on ball movement, moving without the ball, a team defensive structure, and an overall basketball IQ. Team collective with pieces that can be easily interchanged is high on the list of coaching duties here in Europe as well. That leads me to my next point.
8. National Teams…In most of the world, the talent pool is not as deep as it is in the USA. This means that there are fewer talented youth players, so when they start playing in youth national teams, they usually play together for a very long time. They get to know each other on a personal level AND a basketball level. They don’t just come together for a national team cycle and that’s it. In the USA the talent pool is much bigger. Another point is that these countries usually have a backup team if the top players are in the NBA. These backup players can easily step in. This is no disrespect to backup national team players. They do not sulk and complain when they may have to sit during a cycle when the NBA players come back. Why not? Because most of them are all playing on high levels in Europe. They know their worth and they take pride in being a part of the system. Team USA only prepares for big tournaments such as the Olympics or World Championships which are on a world stage. Why? It mostly. has to do with an image, standing, and truthfully money. College players still play many of the “not so important” tournaments. Not too long ago, Mexico beat Team USA (for the first time ever) in one such tournament where the “Big Guns” were not participating.
There are other contributing factors but in my opinion, these are the most important reasons why the world is catching up to Team USA. I believe it is good for the game of basketball. Things are much more interesting now. Of course, I still think overall America has the best athletes in the world…but that does not mean that the dominance the USA once had will hold forever.