News came out a while back that Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble had made a preliminary tryout team for the USA's World University Games men's basketball team. That's cool! That's very cool! Iowa's (ostensibly) two best players getting (ostensible) national recognition among their peers going into the 2013-14 season is the type of thing that happens at very good basketball programs and we celebrate this! Especially when people are like "oh snaps Aaron White makes other people good at this!"
Well, the cuts to cull the tryout list from were Wednesday, and the cuts were not entirely kind to the Hawkeyes. Not entirely. Roy Dev will not be a part of the WUT team, while Aaron White is still alive. Here's the University of Iowa's official release on it:
Following three days of training camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, the USA Basketball Men's Junior National Team Committee today announced that University of Iowa junior Aaron White is one of 16 finalists for the 2013 USA Basketball Men's World University Games Team. Hawkeye senior guard Roy Devyn Marble did not make the cut.
Training camp will continue in Colorado Springs through June 30, and the 12-member roster will be announced prior to the team's departure for Russia on July 1. The 2013 World University Games (WUGs) men's basketball competition will be played July 7-16 in Kazan, Russia.
First things first: It's June 27, and these aren't even the final cuts. The team leaves in five days! Leaves to Russia! These decisions couldn't have been made, say, two weeks sooner?!
We're not complaining for the sake of the Prime Time League, because that an Iowa-specific factor that is not a thing that a national team should have to schedule around. That is not how logical thinking works. If anything the PTL draft shouldn't have been in such close proximity to WUG tryouts, but y'know, that's just not usually a problem the PTL has to deal with.
The bummer is that there are four dudes who have to have planned for a very long trip to Russia to play basketball on an amateur basis and who will not get a chance to compete, and they won't know their fate (with a freaking international trip in the balance) until the next few days. And either way the national team can't give them any significant amount of money for their troubles. Sure glad they have support systems waiting at home! Unless they don't! In which case whatever it's their fault, I guess?!
Anyway, the hope is that White is not on that list of four players left behind, and based on this report from Andy Glockner of SI.com, White worked his way into the coaches' favor during tryouts:
I had liked what Aaron White was providing Tuesday in terms of energy and effort, and seeing him this morning on a team playing alongside Alex Kirk peaked [sic] my interest. I wondered to Albuquerque beat writer Geoff Grammer whether they were taking a look at that combo for a reason, and it appears they were. White definitely earned his way to this point with his play here.
This is not an insignificant development. Not only is it a matter of White playing his way into the coaches' attention, it's doing it in conjunction with another player—and Kirk is a player who at 7'0" and 250 pounds, so he's probably valuable in a backup role for size's sake.
Not only is Kirk valuable for his size, he passes well; now think of a power forward who can thrive with a passing big man. Yep, it's White. Absolutely.
Here's why their partnership is promising: this is American basketball operating under a limited time budget against international competition. Kirk may not be the top center on the WUG roster (he's not), but if he can play an effective two-man game with White playing the 3-4, then he provides a ton more value than if he's just trying to do an impression of the guy he's backing up. A good international club provides multiple offensive looks to force a defensive response from its opponent, and if the USA team can break out backup big men who have a sophisticated passing game in place (which is what you expect Glocker was talking about with Kirk and White, if you know anything about the two players) , then the Americans are on the level of their competition in that situation—. And aside from pure raw talent, which hasn't served America super well when only collegiate players are at it recently, the ability to play team-based basketball is crucial to international success.
To be clear: We don't know if White makes the cut. It's awesome if he does, but it's PTL if he doesn't, so it's not like there's a bad option when it comes to if this guy's doing things that support Iowa basketball. But we think he ought to. And it is very, very great that we're even talking about this opportunity when it has never been this kind of an opportunity for an Iowa player in recent history. And no, we're not counting Melsahn Basabe's USA U19 tryout a couple years back. That was over when it started. Basbe had his own limitations, one that he hasn't gotten rid of to this day (and which inform his strengths as a bench mobber, as luck would have it).
This is different. This has amazing implications for Iowa. It's not an Olympic opportunity, but it's closer than you'd think. This is the United States watching a University of Iowa basketball player play ball and think, "yeah, that guy plays ball well enough that he might be able to represent the country." THAT IS AWESOME.
Let's also be clear about one last thing, though. The US team is heavier on guard talent than it is on forward talent, which is a major factor in why Aaron White is still alive for the team and why Roy Devyn Marble is already in PTL prep. Doesn't make Marble worse than White (as if you're dumb enough to get caught up in unfair apples vs. oranges comparisons, right? even if it's the other way around with those two guys, right?), but it does reflect the fact that the US is deeper at guard than it is at forward. In fact, if there's any sense of foreboding, it's that Yogi Ferrell apparently outplayed Marble. Apparently. And there's a long season in front of us to help prove or disprove that.
The point is this, and this is a point that has not been disproved by Marble not making the cut: Iowa basketball is at one of its most elite standards of talent in the last 25 years. The 1987 team was No. 1 coming into the season, and we can't go there yet, but 1) that was more than a quarter-century ago, and 2) we can start talking about the Hawkeyes in such terms of preseason strength for the first time in a long time.
This is a new and possibly unique season. Iowa comes into 2013-14 two-deep at every single position. Both point guards, Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons, got starting experience last year as true freshmen. We'll see who gets the starting nod there and for as fierce as that battle might be coming into the season, both guys are going to be integral contributors regardless of who's on the starting sheet. Tell the other he's a backup. See what happens.
At the 2, Roy Devyn Marble and Josh Oglesby obviously play different roles, but both can play the point if they have to and if Oglesby cures his yips, he has the physical tools to be one of the most devastating outside shooters in the Big Ten. And then there's Peter Jok, who's the legitimate second shot creator Iowa lacked last year. He projects as a 2/3. He's emerging as a serious scoring threat in the PTL. Yes, it's the PTL where defense goes to die. It's also the PTL where you get a general sense of who's a scorer and who isn't, and Jok is passing that test in a way that almost nobody else is. We discount his talents at his own peril.
(Quick aside: there is a tantalizing and persistent rumor that Marble will actually play the point next season, and as such Iowa's top five would likely go Marble-Jok-White-Uthoff-Basabe with one of the two centers at the ready if need be. That is a rumor and we will hold off on exploding in joy over it until it comes to be.)
The three, if McCaffrey is even thinking in these terms with the glut of talent he's got at forward, is the biggest logjam. White has to start. White has to be on the court as much as possible. White is a borderline USA team candidate, for crying out loud, and his style of play is the same as what demanded Chris Street be on the court as much as possible 23 years ago. It is smart, hard-nosed, and infectious—the holy frickin' trinity of coachability. Bad news for Zach McCabe, you'd think. But McCabe's a court-stretching forward who can play the 3 or 4 on offense (and defend the 4 and the 4 only unless the opposing coach is an insane person and coaches sorta do that),
So even if we're committed to White as a 3 and a necessary starter and McCabe as a necessary backup 4, now there's the question of what to do with Melsahn Basabe and Jared Uthoff. Uthoff's legit. Uthoff is the kind of guy who can score on anybody, because there's maybe one other dude in the Big Ten (Adreian Payne) with Uthoff's skill set, and I'm sorry, but Payne's best asset isn't his defense. Uthoff can work basically anybody defending him in the Big Ten.
And then there's Melsahn Basabe, who is a former Team USA tryout candidate and who has been a genuine asset to Iowa in the role of first backup—a role that is just as meaningful if not more as starter on the good teams. Where does Basabe, one of Fran's first and best recruits, get his minutes? I really don't know the answer. But I do know that the last time we asked that question we got an answer from Basabe on that question, the answer was "all over the place" and Iowa basketball was better off for it.
As for center, unless Iowa's going small-ball, the 5 is completely well taken care of by Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni. Those guys are monsters in the making, and the only reason we didn't include either in Iowa's clutch-time five above is that good teams usually go small late. If Woody or Gabe finally establish themselves as one of the top five men on the court regardless of Iowa's personnel philosophy—and believe us, it's easily possible with both guys—we're looking at a situation where Iowa can go small or big against virtually anyone.
This is extreme versatility. It comes from a coach who knows how to keep players in tow and not do things like run off every single guy who ever runs point for him, like Lickliter. It also comes from a coach who puts in a ton of work on scouting. And it comes from a coach who sees an ostensible three-star talent like Aaron White and maximizes that talent to such an extent that even the national college team is starting to visualize ways in which White can be a contributor.
We're not here making gigantic claims about where Iowa will be come March. We don't know. All we know is that Iowa's two best players got international competition interest, and there just so happens to be nine or 10 serious contributors alongside them in Iowa's lineup next year.
The Hawkeyes have a surfeit of talent. It is being reflected in White's nomination to the top 16 of the USA team. It is reflected in the rest of the Hawkeye lineup. This is frickin' awesome.