USA Basketball to use non-NBA players for qualifying after FIBA changes

After winning gold medals in each of its past five major competitions with an array of NBA stars, USA Basketball will attempt to qualify for the 2019 FIBA World Cup using a rotating squad made up primarily of NBA Development League players.

Changes to the qualifying structure for the next World Cup by the sport's world governing body, FIBA, have forced ‎USA Basketball and countries worldwide to alter their approach for major tournament play, as FIBA moves away from tournaments held strictly in the summer.

U.S. rosters for the World Cup itself, as well as the Olympics, will continue to feature NBA stars. But the players entrusted to secure qualification for those events have to come from elsewhere because the NBA does not intend to release its players -- of any nationality -- for the in-season World Cup qualifying windows that begin later this year.

NBA D-Leaguers, by contrast, will be made available for selection to USA Basketball squads that are scheduled to begin playing 2019 World Cup qualifying games in November. USAB will learn its opponents for its first batch of qualifying games next week.

Another possibility, according to USA Basketball sources, ‎is recruiting Americans who are playing abroad in selected leagues that will consent to releasing players for qualifying windows.

New USA Basketball head coach Gregg Popovich will be engaged with his San Antonio Spurs responsibilities during the NBA season. Sources said that one option USAB has considered is employing multiple head coaches during the various qualifying periods for the fresh rosters that will be selected for each of the six two-game qualifying sets to come.

But the more likely scenario for now, sources said, is the hiring of one coach not currently in charge of an NBA team to handle the 12 qualifying games before Popovich is scheduled to debut as Team USA head coach at the 2019 World Cup, replacing the highly successful Mike Krzyzewski.

Sean Ford, the USA Basketball men's national team director, will serve as the nonvoting chairman of the player selection committee. Other committee representatives include NBA D-League executive Tony Bollier, Brooklyn Nets assistant general manager Trajan Langdon, Miami Heat assistant general manager Adam Simon and Houston Rockets vice president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas, with one athlete representative to be announced.

Langdon and Simon actively work with their teams' D-League affiliates; Rosas has previously served as a USAB scout.

Following the model that FIFA uses in international soccer when it comes to qualifying for its quadrennial major championships, FIBA has scheduled six two-game qualifying windows between this November and February 2019.

Those 12 games, divided into two rounds, will qualify 31 nations for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, along with host China.

The United States will remain a heavy favorite to qualify out of the Americas region even without access to NBA players in qualifying. The top seven teams in the Americas will advance to the 32-team World Cup field, joining Africa's top five teams, Asia's top seven teams, as well as China, and the top 12 teams from Europe.

And then with Popovich in charge and a roster full of NBA standouts, Team USA would naturally be expected to comfortably manage the top-seven finish at the World Cup needed to secure automatic qualification for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The seven qualifying berths for the 2020 Olympics are reserved for the World Cup's top finisher from the Africa, Asia and Oceania zones and the top two finishers, respectively, from the Americas and European zones. Japan earns an automatic qualifying berth as the host country, leaving the four remaining Olympic berths to be determined through four FIBA Olympic qualifying tournaments to be held in the summer of 2020.

According to the current schedule, Team USA will play two games between Nov. 20-28, then two more between Feb. 19-27, 2018, and two more to complete the first round between June 25 and July 3, 2018.

The second round will consist of two games between Aug. 30-Sept. 8, 2018, two more between Nov. 26-Dec. 4, 2018, and the last two from Feb. 18-26, 2019.

"With USA Basketball entering the new FIBA qualification system for the men's 2019 World Cup and 2020 Olympic competitions, we're excited to work with the NBA Development League to field competitive teams for the 2017-19 USA's World Cup qualifying games," USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley said in a statement.