Team USA has their first game Wednesday evening, and probably their toughest, as they match-up with the Dominican Republic in the 2011 Pan-American Games. As we all should remember, Team USA is made up of players signed to play in the NBA Development League this season whereas the Dominican Republic team features one of my favorite players from the FIBA Americas tournament.
The games are happening in Guadalajara, Mexico. This year's team is looking to break of six straight tournaments, dating back to Michael Jordan's 1983 team, in which the USA hasn't won top honors at the Pan-Am Games. Team USA took fifth in 2007 with a roster that included future NBA players Roy Hibbert, D.J. White, Joey Dorsey and Wayne Ellington while they were still in college.
It's pretty difficult to guess exactly how Nate Tibbetts and his staff is going to use his team of D-Leaguers following their two-week training camp. Considering what we know about the international style of basketball, however, it wouldn't be surprising to me if Blake Ahearn is the team's leading scorer.
Team USA will likely have to rely on a lot of scoring production out of its backcourt as the frontcourt is made up mostly of role players and defenders (and Brian Butch, though it's difficult to guess what he's capable of after coming off of his second major surgery).
As far as the defenders are concerned, the two names that standout are Renaldo Major and Greg Stiemsma. Major has been one of the best perimeter defenders in the D-League for several seasons, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2008 following a call-up to the Golden State Warriors, and Greg Stiemsma is an excellent shot blocker as those that watched his 2009-10 campaign with the Sioux Falls Skyforce can attest.
The Dominican Republic team is missing its most recognizable names as the team couldn't secure the insurance it would have needed for Al Horford, Francisco Garcia and Charlie Villanueva -- though the absence of Villanueva is anything but debilitating considering his dismal performance last month. In lieu of those names, however, Dominica will probably end up relying on its interesting array of big men.
As many of you that follow me on Twitter know, Dominican Republic post player Jack Michael Martinez has been my favorite find of the off-season. Martinez hasn't been on the NBA roster since being invited to play for the Portland Trail Blazers' summer league entry in 2005, but after a strong FIBA Americas showing and recently turning 30, this year would seem to be his final opportunity to reach his goal of making to the NBA -- if there is an NBA.
Manuel Guzman, now apparently known as Ely(s) Guzman, is a personal favorite as we both list our alma mater as Bemidji State. Represent! If nothing else, he should provide a good test for whichever big doesn't draw Martinez is in the post.
Other names to keep an eye on are Alexis Montas after he led the team in scoring during a recent warm-up against Peurto Rico, former Temple guard Luis Guzman and Kelvin Pena, one of the holdovers from the FIBA Americas team.
Television coverage for all of the Team USA games can be found here, but today's game is probably going to be best watched online at this link. Yay real basketball!
If it's warranted, by the way, I'd love to make this a live thread filled with comments!