U.S. cuts Pan Am roster to 14 heading into Brazil trip
Villanova coach Jay Wright was clear about a few things prior to the start of the five-practice trials for the Pan Am Games team on Thursday: The team with the best chance to win internationally was going to be selected, not necessarily an all-star, future NBA team. And, oh by the way, the selection committee, not Wright, was making the call.
So, that might explain why there were some surprise additions and omissions from the 14 players selected out of the 30 who tried out for the squad. The roster will be trimmed again, this time by two, in advance of next Saturday's departure for the competition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Late Saturday night, the selection committee, which consisted of Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Oregon's Ernie Kent, Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Kansas' Bill Self, junior college representative Scott Schumacher and athletic representative A.J. Wynder, voted on a final list of 14 players. In a rare format for high-profile players who have mostly never tried out for a team in their basketball careers, let alone been cut, USA Basketball men's program executive director Sean Ford read off the names of finalists in a banquet room.
They were: Roy Hibbert (Georgetown), Wayne Ellington (North Carolina), Shan Foster (Vanderbilt), Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low (Washington State), Eric Maynor (VCU), Bryce Taylor and Maarty Leunen (Oregon), Josh Carter (Texas A&M), D.J. White (Indiana), Drew Neitzel (Michigan State), Scottie Reynolds (Villanova), James Gist (Maryland) and Joey Dorsey (Memphis).
USA Basketball officially announced the roster Sunday morning.
"This was definitely the most difficult choice we've ever had to make, but I just love this group. I think we have great options," Wright said in a statement released by USA Basketball. "It's just a really diverse group that has great personality and I think the committee did a great job of putting together a really strong team. Our staff is excited about working with this team and getting them to come together and think like a team."
If Wright were selecting the team for himself then he might not have chosen five big men. But, since this is a committee decision, the group went with putting together a team that reflected how they played over five practices at Haverford College from Thursday through Saturday as well as projecting how they may play in an international competition against potential pros from Brazil and Argentina.
The five big men that made it were Hibbert, White, Gist, Dorsey and Leunen. Hibbert and White are considered more traditional low-post scorers while Dorsey would potentially give the U.S. a physical presence on the boards. Gist is more of a tweener in this group while Leunen proved to be the best face-up forward of those trying out.
This meant that Washington's Jon Brockman, Wisconsin's Brian Butch, N.C. State's Brandon Costner, Alabama's Richard Hendrix, LSU's Tasmin Mitchell and Saint Joseph's Ahmad Nivins didn't make the cut. Butch and Brockman were said to have had their best practices of the five on Saturday but that didn't do enough in the decision process, according to multiple sources. Costner played well on day one but wasn't able to differentiate himself the rest of the weekend.
Multiple sources said the wings -- Ellington, Foster, Weaver, Taylor and Carter -- stood out too much to be dismissed. This was considered the strongest group of the bunch and apparently created enough separation over Chris Lofton (Tennessee), Eric Devendorf (Syracuse), Randal Falker (Southern Illinois), Alonzo Gee (Alabama), Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal (Marquette) and Jon Scheyer (Duke). Lofton is widely considered one of the top shooters in college basketball but didn't convert at a high percentage over the three days and it was enough to clip him in the final decision. Duke's DeMarcus Nelson would have been in this group too but didn't have a chance to finish the trials after suffering a left wrist injury Thursday. He practiced Friday morning before deciding Friday night to head back to Durham, N.C. for further testing. A final diagnosis and announcement on his injury is due Tuesday.
The point guard position -- always the most talked about on these college-based USA Basketball teams -- should get plenty of buzz with the selections of Neitzel (a combo in this group), Low, Maynor and Reynolds. Neitzel was a natural because of his ability to play off the ball while Low stood out with his floor leadership. Maynor was the big surprise over the five practices but continued to prove that his play in the NCAA Tournament win over Duke was hardly a fluke. Reynolds made sense at this stage because he plays for Wright (who is assisted on this team by Alabama's Mark Gottfried and Yale's James Jones) and understands the way he'll want to coach. That meant the two Kansas lead guards -- Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins -- didn't make the cut.
Marquette's Dominic James and Virginia's Sean Singletary were on the original trial roster released last week but because they weren't guaranteed being on the team since the roster was submitted to the Pan Am Games without their names in June because they had declared for the draft, they weren't guaranteed being allowed to play even if they made the team this weekend.
With one more cut of two players, to see a pair of players from Washington State and Oregon on the squad should continue to bolster the premise that the Pac-10 is loaded with talent.
The team will continue to practice through Wednesday in suburban Philadelphia before moving to Washington D.C. for two exhibitions. The Pan Am competition begins in Brazil on July 25 against Uruguay. The U.S. plays Panama and Argentina before the medal round begins on July 28.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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