U.S. men's basketball will start road to gold with D-Leaguers

(AP) — The U.S. men’s basketball team will let minor leaguers take the first steps on the road to gold.

The Americans announced a six-member selection committee Tuesday that will choose players, mostly from the NBA Development League, to play in games to qualify for the 2019 Basketball World Cup.

Coach Gregg Popovich and a team of NBA stars would return for that tournament and the following summer for the Olympics, assuming the U.S. makes it to Tokyo. But a team of lesser-known players will have to get the Americans most of the way there.

“This will be an excellent opportunity for NBA D-League players to showcase their talent and experience meaningful and important international competition while representing the United States,” USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley said in a statement.

Under a new competition schedule introduced this year by FIBA, the World Cup will serve as the qualifying tournament for the 2020 Olympics. Teams must navigate a new qualifying format to reach the 32-team World Cup in China, but because some of the qualifiers will be played during the NBA season, NBA players will not be available.

So the Americans, the reigning Olympic and World Cup champions, will lean on players from the NBA D-League, which will be renamed the NBA Gatorade League beginning next season. USA Basketball men’s national team director Sean Ford will chair the committee, which will include NBA D-League executives Trajan Langdon, Adam Simon and Tony Bollier; Houston Rockets executive vice president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas; and one athlete representative to be announced.

Nations will be drawn into four-team groups and play home-and-away games within their zone. The first-round competition window dates are Nov. 20-28, Feb. 19-27 and June 25-July 3, 2018. The second-round dates are set for Aug. 30-Sept. 8, 2018; Nov. 26-Dec. 4, 2018; and Feb. 18-26, 2019.

The Americans would likely stage their home games in NBA D-League arenas.