ORLANDO, Fla. - He had the opportunity to be an Olympian last year, but Kyrie Irving passed on playing for Australia to preserve his chance of playing for Team USA in the future. In a few weeks, he'll get a little closer.
Irving will be one of about two-dozen players invited to Las Vegas at the end of July in preparation for the 2014 FIBA World Cup team (formerly known as the FIBA World Championship). No invitations have been formally extended yet, but USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo confirmed in a phone interview on Saturday that Irving will be among those invited.
"You can be assured that he'll be one of the invitees," Colangelo said. "He's already established himself as one of the top three or four point guards in the league."
The formal invitations will be extended after the season ends, but Irving secured his place with a dazzling performance for the U.S. Select team last summer in Las Vegas. He wowed Colangelo, Team USA coach (and his former college coach) Mike Krzyzewski and a number of Olympians who heaped praise on Irving for his confidence, ball-handling skills and ability to score against the best players in the world.
It has been a dizzying 12 months for Australia-born Irving, beginning with his Rookie of the Year award, the popularity of his "Uncle Drew" character in the hit PepsiMax series, his success with the Select team in Las Vegas and most recently his 3-point championship and All-Star Game appearance.
"He's done really well, he's getting better and better," Colangelo said. "He's a great kid and he's got a great foundation. I told him last summer that he figures prominently in our future."
The invitation to the four-day camp this summer is the next step in that process. Colangelo wouldn't go into specific players beyond Irving, but said the foundation of this summer's player pool will be the majority of players chosen for the U.S. Select team last summer. That team was composed of Irving, DeJuan Blair, DeMarcus Cousins, DeMar DeRozan, Derrick Favors, Paul George, Taj Gibson, Gordon Hayward, Jrue Holiday, Kawhi Leonard, Lance Thomas, Klay Thompson and John Wall.
The 2014 World Cup team will be selected from the pool of 22-24 invitees, and most of the players getting the invitations will be young, rising players in the NBA - as illustrated by the Select team.
That wasn't always Colangelo's intent, but it worked so well the last time that he wants to do it again.
Colangelo was originally expecting the holdovers from the 2008 Olympic team to return for the World Championship two years later, but a number of the league's stars were burned out and chose not to play.
"It actually was a blessing," Colangelo said.
The selection committee started over, choosing a whole new set of players for the World Championship. Instead of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, the World Championship team was led by Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. They won gold again, and four of the players from the World Championship team (Durant, Westbrook, Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler) were Olympians last summer.
Now Colangelo is predicting about six players from the 2014 World Cup team will play in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
"As I think about it, to keep this system going and for the young players to aspire to be on that national team in the Olympics, you need to have half a roster turn over each time," he said. "This is going to be primarily from the group we had last summer from the Select team and some additions. We're still up in the air exactly who, but it's all about getting people prepared and ready and moving up the ladder."
A few obvious additions would be Anthony Davis, who played sparingly on the Olympic team last summer, and rookie Damian Lillard. It remains to be seen if Tristan Thompson or Dion Waiters will receive invitations to Vegas this summer, although both would have to be considered long shots to make the final World Cup roster.
Colangelo was quick to point out how the success of the players involved in the World Championship team translated in their next NBA season. Rose won the Most Valuable Player coming off the World Championship, Chandler had the second-best season of his career and won an NBA championship, Love set a career high in scoring and led the league in rebounding and Durant won his second consecutive scoring title.
Whether or not Irving follows with similar success remains to be seen, but Colangelo is anxious to see what he does in the coming years.
"Kyrie is special," he said. "He's put himself in a little bit of a different class already."