Did USA Basketball Miss an Opportunity With GLOBL JAM?

It’s not often that the United States finishes last in a basketball tournament.

By Elisha Gunaratnam

The inaugural GLOBL JAM tournament took place in Toronto, Canada this past week. GLOBL JAM is a FIBA-recognizedThe United States (represented by VCU) lines up for the singing of the national anthem (VCU WBB Twitter) U23 tournament, and on the women’s side of the tournament, there were teams from Belgium, France, and the United States that competed in a four-team pool along with the host country, Canada. 

While Canada, France, and Belgium assembled U23 squads composed of top Euroleague and NCAA talent, USA Basketball elected to send a college team, VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University), to be its representative in the tournament. As a result, the United States did not win a single game.

Why did this happen?

Approximately one year ago, Canada Basketball reached out to USA Basketball to inquire about their interest in participating in the inaugural GLOBL JAM tournament. Since USA Basketball’s schedules are planned so far in advance, the organization felt that it could not fit GLOBL JAM into its schedule this year, and recommended that Canada Basketball reach out to the NCAA.

The NCAA then referred Canada Basketball to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) and the National Basketball Coaches Association (NBCA). The coaches associations decided to take part in the tournament, with the WBCA supporting a women’s team for GLOBL JAM, and the NBCA supporting a men’s team.

Because of time considerations, the two organizations felt that the best option would be to select already established collegiate teams to play for the USA in GLOBL JAM.

Yes, perhaps the tournament gave the WBCA and the NBCA a shorter window than they would have liked, but Basketball Belgium and the French Basketball Federation were able to put together squads that featured players from several different Euroleague teams. Canada Basketball was able to assemble a roster that consisted of NCAA players from Arizona, UConn, Duke, Oregon, Louisville, Gonzaga, Miami, and Washington State—a roster that ultimately helped them win the inaugural GLOBL JAM title.

The United States Women’s Basketball team poses with their gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics (Via the Source Magazine)

U23 Teams, A Bridge Between Youth Teams and Senior Teams

With over 350 Division I basketball programs, the United States is overflowing with basketball talent, and since the country has so much talent, many of its players will never have a chance to play on the international stage. 

Even if players play professionally, roster spots on USA Basketball’s senior women’s team are incredibly hard to come by. During this past Olympic cycle, Nneka Ogwumike, a former WNBA MVP and current WNBA All-Star, appealed to FIBA to be allowed to play for Nigeria after she was left off the American squad for yet another international tournament. 

The stiff competition for roster spots often means that USA Basketball has a much older roster than other countries. The average age of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic squad was 29.9 years, with the oldest player being 40 (Sue Bird) and the youngest players being 24 (A’ja Wilson and Napheesa Collier). Out of the players competing in their first Olympics, Skylar Diggins-Smith was the oldest, making her Olympic debut at the age of 30. 

Canada Basketball and UConn star Aaliyah Edwards poses with her gold medal (Sportsnet Twitter)

In contrast, the bronze medal winning French Olympic team’s average age was 26.8 years with the youngest players being 20, and the average age on the Canadian squad was 26.6 years with the youngest player, current UConn player Aaliyah Edwards, being 19.

With competition for roster spots increasing in the United States due to the growth of women’s basketball across the country, it’s safe to say that players making their international debuts late into their professional careers might become the norm. Investing in U23 programs could serve as a bridge between youth and senior programs, while also giving college stars or newly graduated players a chance to get a taste of international basketball. 

The Value of International Basketball Experience

Aaliyah Edwards, Canada’s leading scorer during the tournament and the GLOBL JAM MVP, spoke about how valuable this experience of being on a U23 team was. “Being with this team, being one of the older ones, I’m working on growing as a leader, and I can bring that back with me to [Uconn]” she said. 

Shaina Pellington, a Canada Basketball guard who also suits up for the Arizona Wildcats, observed that international basketball helps her “tremendously in college.” “I mean, every time I play international basketball I always feel like I get smarter. I get smarter and the game comes easier for me.” Arizona benefitted from Pellington’s international experience when they saw her step up to help the team in their run to the National Championship game in 2021. Pellington had one of her best career games on the biggest stage in college basketball, scoring 15 points, grabbing a career-high 7 rebounds, and picking up 3 steals.

Experience on the international stage is so valuable that even though Team USA’s coach for this tournament, VCU head coach Beth O’Boyle, knew her team would be the underdogs going into this tournament, she still leapt at the opportunity to have her college team represent the United States at GLOBL JAM.

The United States (represented by VCU) lines up for the singing of the national anthem (VCU WBB Twitter)

We knew that we were going to come in and we were going to have players on the French team that are on the Olympic team, that are pros. You have the Canadian team and how talented that roster is, and then you’ve got the Belgian team and their pros as well. To me, it isn’t just about the results. It’s about the whole experience that our players are getting. It is just going to make us better when we get back to the States and we’re competing for our Atlantic 10 Championship and at NCAAs. You know what, I can’t probably put into words what a great platform this has been for us and it has really been an amazing time.

The United States already has U23 teams in other sports. Just this past June, the U23 USA Soccer team competed in the Women’s U23 Three-Nations Tournament. Given the breadth of talent that exists at the college level and the rise of women’s basketball in America, establishing a U23 program and competing in tournaments like GLOBL JAM would be an excellent investment for USA Basketball.

Mike Bartlett, Canada Basketball’s Chief Executive Officer, has confirmed that the GLOBL JAM tournament will be back in Toronto in 2023. Perhaps next year, fans will see familiar college stars compete to win a title for the United States. And maybe some of those college stars will begin their path to the Olympics and beyond on that stage.

While USA Basketball missed out on this tournament, the players on the Canadian team walked away from GLOBL JAM with a trophy and the confidence that comes with winning an international competition; the coaches on the Canadian team left GLOBL JAM with a list of players they know are now ready to make the jump to the senior team; and VCU walked away from GLOBL JAM with new knowledge to carry forward into their NCAA season.

USA Basketball’s loss was Canada Basketball and VCU’s gain at this year’s GLOBL JAM tournament. Let’s hope next year the USA will take this opportunity to participate in this competition.

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