When Jerry Colangelo took over a troubled USA Basketball program in 2005 he issued an edict requiring players to make multiyear commitments to Team USA if they wanted to eventually be a part of the Olympic team.
Grant Hill, in his first year as the national team's managing director after replacing Colangelo's legendary run, is operating in a different reality. And so as he prepares for the two-year cycle that includes this summer's World Cup in Manila and next year's Olympics in Paris, he is taking a softer approach toward attracting America's elite players.
"There's no commitment necessary, no 'if you want to play in the Olympics, you have to play here,'" Hill said Monday on a video call with reporters. "I understood why that was implemented and I think it was tremendously successful...But we feel like we had to make a change in that regard. So no tryouts, no commitment."
Team USA was already moving in this direction under Colangelo. There were no formal cuts in training camp before the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo as players dealt with COVID-19 restrictions. It eased the sometimes uncomfortable situations where star players were upset when they were cut from the national team after several days of tryouts.
Post-pandemic, Team USA dropped its annual request for players to attend summer sessions in Las Vegas in non-competition years. Last summer there was no formal national team activity.
With players paying more attention to load management and offseason recovery, the previous demands are a harder sell. Additionally, there has been a change to the international basketball schedule and the World Cup and Olympics are now played in back-to-back summers, making the time investment for the national team more demanding in a shorter window.
"You have to adapt to the times," Hills said. "If you looked at the NBA, it has changed tremendously. It's changed since I retired in 2013. Every generation's different and it's important for us as leadership, particularly USA Basketball, to recognize that and be willing to adapt with that change."
This puts an extra challenge on Hill, incoming Team USA head coach Steve Kerr and national team director Sean Ford to recruit players, manage commitments and judge top opposition teams' strengths over the next few months as they manage assembling a roster. There are no firm commitments for this summer yet and Hill expects there to be a process that will play out through the summer as the team is planning to meet for a training camp in Las Vegas in early August.
Much will depend on injuries, how long certain players playoff runs are and offseason transactions. But a team of 12 players will be named before training camp with no roster spots up for competition. As is tradition, there will also be a Select team made up of younger players who will take part in training and potentially also be available for promotion to the senior team if needed.
Team USA will play a showcase game in Las Vegas before leaving for overseas on a round-the-world journey to play Slovenia and defending World Cup winner Spain in Malaga, Spain. Then they will play Greece and Germany in Abu Dhabi before proceeding to Manila for the three-week World Cup.
"I understood when taking this job that it would be challenging and certainly not ceremonial at all," Hill said. "There's a tremendous amount respect for the international game and certainly a lot of work that that goes into giving ourselves a chance to win gold. The expectations are tremendous. Anything less than gold is looked upon as a failure. I'm aware of that. But I love the challenge."