Zion Williamson has been invited to the Team USA basketball training camp in August. The honor puts the future New Orleans Pelicans star in good company.
Team USA Basketball used to be only college players. Now it is very tough for most NBA players to get early Team USA recognition. Zion Williamson is a special talent, and Team USA hoops have taken notice. Williamson’s spot on the Team USA training court puts him in elite company historically.
Micheal Jordan was still an amateur when he first played for Team USA. In the build-up for the 1984 Olympics, Jordan led the team to pick up game wins over an NBA team. Once professionals were allowed to play for Team USA, Jordan led the Dream Team in 1992.
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Sports should be a meritocracy, but a small minority meant an amateur player preserved some moral high ground. The Russian gold medal victory in 1988 had it’s consequences. Allowing professionals to play in the Olympics was a substantial change to Team USA’s Olympic basketball approach.
Some thought there should be a spot reserved for a college player. There is not codified rule stating a college player must make the team. Likewise, there is no reason a talented collegian should be denied the opportunity to represent their country.
Enter Christian Laettner.
Christian Laettner was the inspiration for a “30 for 30” called I Hate Christian Laettner. It was a testament to his talent. With little hyperbole, some have said Laettner was the best college player of all time. Zion Williamson only has a claim to the most entertaining season ever.
Granted he played a few more years of college ball than Zion, but Laettner earned his Olympic invitation. Laettner led Duke to two national titles in his last two years. Duke made the Final Four every year Laettner played. As a four year starter, he was instrumental in helping to create a legion of Duke haters and elevating the legacy of Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Zion Williamson has a jovial nature, his constant smiling is ingrained into his character. Williamson will get the “30 for 30” treatment someday, just for being the most hyped prospect ever. Zion is the first social media hoops sensation. A lot of people checked out highlights. Most stayed tuned in because of Williamson’s magnetic energy.
Laettner got time on perhaps the most star-laden basketball team ever assembled. Those other players tested Laettner, and he showed why he belonged. Those stars had egos, leading to Dream Team snubs. If Laettner could not pull his weight, he would not have been in Barcelona.
Laettner made an NBA All-Star team, adding to his 1992 gold medal achievement. Williamson has a chance to show the NBA’s elite that he is willing to earn his accolades and stripes. A strong showing would signal he will demand their respect on the court as well.
Anthony Davis was a one and done wonder at Kentucky. His amazing defensive instincts matched his seven-foot frame perfectly. Team USA needed an extra big capable of doing a job without needing the ball.
Davis was coming off of an NCAA championship where he only made one field goal, finishing with six points. Davis paired his NCAA championship with a 2012 Olympic gold medal, playing less than 8 minutes per game. He served well in his role as a complimentary, supportive teammate.
Like Davis, Emeka Okafor was the shot blocking college star that Team USA sorely needed. Okafor helped lead a Team USA to a bronze medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics. He also led the University of Connecticut to the 2004 NCAA National Championship.
Both Davis and Okafor have played professional ball in New Orleans. Presumably, Zion Williamson will as well. The odds are against him making the final roster cuts, but Zion has defied the odds before. Odds are he will likely have a better career than Laettner or Okafor.
Fans have reason to expect Zion can do just as well as Davis did in New Orleans. A true optimist sees Williamson’s Jordan like potential. Even Lebron James had to wait until after his professional debut to think about a Team USA.