As a former European basketball pro and coach, I’ve closely observed Team USA’s recent 4th place finish in the FIBA World Cup. The rise in international competition demands that Team USA adapt and implement a comprehensive plan to regain its dominance for more than just the Olympics. I will propose a 10-year plan that emphasizes consistency, and also compare the USA and German systems which lead to Germany surprising everyone outside of those of us who have played or lived in Germany long enough.
1. A Full-Time Head Coach:
I believe this is probably the most important point. To turn things around, Team USA needs a head coach who can dedicate their full attention to the national team’s success. This coach should possess a deep understanding of international basketball and can develop a cohesive system that maximizes the team’s potential. By having a full-time coach, Team USA can focus on strategic planning, player development, and creating a long-term vision for sustained success.
Here are the coaches I could imagine in this coaching position:
Gregg Popovich: As the current head coach of the San Antonio Spurs and a five-time NBA champion, Popovich has already coached Team USA in various international competitions. His experience, leadership skills, and ability to adapt to different playing styles make him a strong candidate for the head coaching role.
Jay Wright: Wright, the former head coach of Villanova University, has achieved great success in college basketball, winning two NCAA championships. He has also been involved with Team USA as an assistant coach in previous international tournaments. Wright’s ability to develop players and his familiarity with the national team system make him a potential candidate.
Mike Krzyzewski: Krzyzewski, commonly known as Coach K, is one of the most successful college basketball coaches in history. He led Team USA to three Olympic gold medals and two FIBA World Cup titles during his tenure as head coach. Although retired from coaching, his experience and proven track record with Team USA make him a notable candidate for a full-time coaching role.
Tom Thibodeau: Thibodeau has an extensive coaching background in the NBA, including successful stints as an assistant coach with Team USA. Known for his defensive expertise and attention to detail, his coaching style could bring a valuable strategic approach to Team USA’s game plan.
Juwan Howard: He may be the least experienced coach on this list but he has the college, and pro pedigree having been on the Fab 5 University of Michigan team and winning two NBA titles.
By considering American coaches who have already been successful at the college level or have previous experience with Team USA, the national team can leverage their knowledge, leadership, and familiarity with the system to guide Team USA to future success.
2. Consistency in Coaching:
Consistency is vital not only for players but also for the head coach. Frequent coaching changes disrupt team chemistry and hinder progress. By committing to a stable coaching staff, Team USA can foster trust, continuity, and a shared understanding of the team’s goals. Long-term cohesion between players and coaching staff will lead to improved performance on the international stage.
In this system, Team USA would probably have to give up his current job to dedicate himself full-time. I would propose a 5-year contract which would be generously paid.
3. Development of Youth National Teams:
To build a sustainable foundation, Team USA must prioritize the development of youth national teams. Establishing a comprehensive framework for the youth programs will ensure a seamless transition from junior to senior levels.
Many of the best Senior National Teams have players that have played together since they were 14 or 15 so they know how to play with each other very well. Not only that but by playing on the youth National teams so often, they build cohesiveness and a strong bond with playing for their country.
By nurturing young talent, Team USA can groom players who are well-versed in the team’s style, tactics, and cultural values. This investment in youth development will yield long-term benefits for the senior national team.
4. Four-Year Player Commitment:
To enhance team chemistry and continuity, players should commit to a four-year cycle with Team USA. This extended commitment fosters a sense of unity, shared objectives, and familiarity among the players. It allows time for the team to develop strong relationships both on and off the court, adapt to international play, and build a winning culture based on trust and mutual understanding.
The best players should not only feel the need to play in the Olympics or other big tournaments. Just yesterday, Lebron James made a hint on his Instagram page that a team built around him, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, and other NBA stars is making a mockery of the selection process. This plan would ensure continuity instead of short-sighted thinking based on the failures of Team USA.
5. Comprehensive International Scouting:
Team USA would be wise to employ a comprehensive international scouting system to identify and recruit players with the right skill sets and attributes. By casting a wider net, the team can tap into a diverse pool of talent and ensure they have the best players suited for international competition. This approach will enable Team USA to adapt to various playing styles and exploit opponents’ weaknesses effectively.
6.. Continuous Evolution of Playing Style:
Team USA should continuously evolve its playing style to adapt to the changing international landscape instead of relying on the individual class of its players. Emphasizing versatility, teamwork, and strategic flexibility will enable the team to overcome different defensive schemes and exploit opponent weaknesses. Adopting a dynamic style of play that combines individual brilliance with collective teamwork will make Team USA a formidable force again.
Comparison: USA vs. German Systems
Finally, I would like to compare the USA and Germany systems. Having played, coached, and currently still living in Germany, I think I have a perfect viewpoint. The German national team’s victory in the FIBA World Cup can be attributed to several factors that differentiate their system from that of the USA:
1. Player Development Philosophy:
Germany places a strong emphasis on player development from a young age. They prioritize fundamental skill development, tactical understanding, and teamwork through well-structured youth programs.
The nationwide JBBL (Under 16) and NBBL (U19) basketball leagues are incredibly well-run and almost professional leagues. The best players in the country can compete against each other and there are standards for coaches to fulfill to coach in these leagues.
This focus on holistic development ensures a consistent supply of technically proficient players who excel in team play.
2. Systematic Talent Identification:
Germany has implemented a systematic approach to talent identification and development. Through a network of scouting programs, regional training centers, and national team selection processes, Germany identifies and nurtures promising young players, providing them with the necessary resources and support to reach their potential.
3. Cohesive Team Culture:
The German national team has cultivated a strong sense of unity, shared purpose, and team chemistry. Players understand their roles, value teamwork, and prioritize collective success over individual accomplishments. This cohesive team culture fosters trust, communication, and a strong bond among the players.
There is no better example of this than one of my former players, Leon Kratzer. Leon established himself as one of the Bundesliga’s best Centers. He will be now playing his first season outside of Germany in Paris. He is also routinely on the National team during exhibition games or tournaments where the NBA players cannot play. If the NBA players are available, he is usually one of the last cuts.
Instead of sulking that other players take his place or becoming a distraction, Leon supports the National team as if he were there, which shows the quality of his character and also his commitment to the success of the National team.
In contrast, Team USA has traditionally relied on the abundance of individual talent available in the NBA. While this approach has yielded success in the past, the recent rise in international competition has highlighted the need for a more systematic and collaborative approach, similar to what Germany has embraced.