The Journey from USA Basketball to the NBA

By Mike Garabedian | March 20, 2018

For the first time ever, the USA Basketball World Cup Qualifying Team was comprised primarily of NBA G League players. The opportunity allowed some top NBA prospects to showcase their talent to executives and coaches with a chance to one day receive the call-up to play in the world’s best league, the NBA.

In a Q&A with NBAGLeague.com, longtime NBA head coach Jeff Van Gundy shared his thoughts on the experience he hoped his players would receive from their time with USA Basketball.

“Eight of the 18 guys that played for us in both the AmeriCup and the first window have gone on to play in at least an NBA game,” he said.

Those words could not be more accurate as a remarkable 11 players that competed with USA Basketball this past year have received a Gatorade Call-Up so far this season to play in the NBA. Below we take a look at those that donned the red, white and blue, and have subsequently fulfilled their dream of receiving the call-up to the Association.

Reggie Hearn – Two-Way player Reno Bighorns/Detroit Pistons

During the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers in November, the Northwestern product averaged 11.5 points and 6.0 rebounds in two starts to help USA Basketball go 2-0 in its first-round games. In addition to his productive performance for USA Basketball, Hearn averaged 14.7 points, 4.6 rebounds with a 38 percent clip from beyond the arc over 14 games for the Reno Bighorns. Both experiences helped pave the way to a two-way contract for the Pistons on Feb. 15. The 6-foot-5 forward would go on to bury a three-pointer in his first NBA game and, most recently, went off for 19 points, seven boards and five assists in a March 13th victory for the Drive.

Amile Jefferson – Two-Way player Iowa Wolves/Minnesota Timberwolves

The former Duke National Champion played in both World Cup Qualifiers in November for USA and averaged 4.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in only 13.5 minutes of action. That experience along with his season averages of 18.0 points and a league-best 13.1 rebounds per games over his first 22 games of the season with the Iowa Wolves earned Jefferson a two-way contract with the Timberwolves on Jan. 15.

Marshall Plumlee – Agua Caliente Clippers/Milwaukee Bucks

The former Duke product opened the year with a gold medal for a 2017 USA AmeriCup Team that went 5-0 and picked up marquee wins over Uruguay and Argentina. Following 27 games with the Agua Caliente Clippers in which the 7-foot-0 center averaged 8.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists, Plumlee inked a two-way contract with the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 15. In addition to his seven appearances this season with the Bucks, Plumlee played in 21 games last season with the New York Knicks and averaged 1.9 points and 2.4 rebounds in 8.1 minutes for the club.

Markel Brown – Oklahoma City Blue/Houston Rockets

It’s been a long journey for Brown who has 109 games of NBA experience under his belt, including 35 starts, but has not played in the league since 2016. After playing in Russia last season, Brown started this year with the Blue and stellar production followed. Brown also dominated for the 2017 World Cup Qualifying Team as he finished second on the squad with 12.0 points and 2.5 assists, including connecting at a 66.7 percent clip from 3-point range in the squad’s two wins in November. The 6-foot-3 forward from Oklahoma State was averaging 17.2 points and 4.2 rebounds over 22 games before getting another chance in the NBA. Brown signed a two-way contract with the Houston Rockets and has appeared in four games for the top-ranked team in the Western Conference.

Larry Drew II – Sioux Falls Skyforce/Philadelphia 76ers/New Orleans Pelicans

Drew II spent a significant amount of time this past year helping his country win games. The 6-foot-2 guard paved the way for a gold medal at the 2017 USA AmeriCup behind a team-high 5.0 assists per contest in the perfect 5-0 run. Following a brief stint with the Philadelphia 76ers earlier in the season, Drew II then competed in the FIBA World Cup Qualifying first round, second-window games and registered 10.5 points and 5.5 assists in wins over Cuba and Puerto Rico. Drew II signed a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans on March 15 as he put up 11.7 points and 7.5 assists in 35 games with Sioux Falls this season.

Trey McKinney-Jones – Fort Wayne Mad Ants/Indiana Pacers

The University of Miami product represented USA during All-Star weekend as he wore the red, white and nlue in the inaugural NBA G League International Challenge. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound guard played in 26 games for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and averaged 11.4 points per game before signing a 10-day contract with the Indiana Pacers. McKinney-Jones saw his dream of becoming an NBA player come true as he checked into a game against the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 24.

Marcus Thornton – Canton Charge/Cleveland Cavaliers

Thornton’s NBA journey has been filled with ups and downs since being drafted 45th overall by the Boston Celtics in 2015. With no guaranteed roster spot, the Celtics gave the guard an option, whether to play in the G League or go overseas and he opted for the latter. Thornton played with the Sydney Kings in Australia before joining the NBA G League on the Maine Red Claws in 2016. Last year, he was overseas again with Consultinvest Pesaro in Italy before turning heads with the Canton Charge this season. The William & Mary star parlayed his success into a spot on the USA Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team after averaging 18.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists while shooting .408 from three-point range in 36.1 minutes per game. Thornton then earned a 10-day contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 22.

Travis Wear – South Bay Lakers/Los Angeles Lakers

The only player to appear in all four games for the USA Men’s World Qualifying Team, Wear made the most of his USA Basketball experience as he averaged 7.3 points and 6.8 boards to help his country go a perfect 4-0 in the first-round games. The 6-foot-9 forward was a beast for his G League affiliate as he racked up 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, in addition to making 41.9 percent of his 7.1 three-point attempts per game. The Huntington Beach, Calif., native catapulted his accomplishments into a dream of playing for his favorite team growing up as the Los Angeles Lakers called him up on March 2. Wear made his 10 days worthy, making an immediate impact for the Lakers off the bench producing 4.6 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.4 minutes through five games to receive another 10-day for his hometown squad.

Rodney Purvis – Lakeland Magic/Orlando Magic

A G League standout this season for the Lakeland Magic, Purvis made his presence felt for the USA World Cup Qualifying Team in February’s second set of first-round games. The 6-foot-4 guard from UConn led the team in wins over Cuba and Puerto Rico with a team-high 13.0 points per game despite not starting. Before receiving a call-up on March 8, Purvis ranked eighth in the NBA G League in points per game (20.5) and second in minutes per game (38.5). Purvis made his NBA debut on March 9 against the Sacramento Kings and scored. He has scored in all four games with Orlando, including six points and one assist in 13 minutes against the Clippers in his second appearance.

Jameel Warney – Texas Legends/Dallas Mavericks

The 6-foot-8 forward enjoyed great success with USA Basketball, helping lead the squad to the 2017 AmeriCup title with a 5-0 record and earning MVP honors after averaging 12.8 points and 8.6 rebounds, including a 21-point, seven-rebound performance in the gold medal win over Argentina. Warney also totaled 11.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in World Cup qualifying wins over Mexico and Puerto Rico in November, and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year in December. One of the most dominant players in the G League this season averaging a near double-double with 19.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, Warney turned his stellar play with the NBA Legends into a call-up with the Dallas Mavericks. The New York native became the first Stony Brook alum to reach the NBA when he signed a 10-day contract on March 18 and in his NBA debut, poured in five points and grabbed four boards in eight minutes against the Houston Rockets.

Damion Lee – Santa Cruz Warriors/Atlanta Hawks

A long journey that included an ACL tear in college during his 2013-14 season, Damion Lee received a spot on the USA Basketball team in February due to an impressive second season in the G League. The 6-foot-6 guard played in 38 games this season with the Santa Cruz Warriors and boasted averages of 15.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 steals in 29.7 minutes (.454 FG%, .915 FT%). Those numbers earned him a 10-day contract with the Atlanta Hawks where Lee showed the world that he belonged on an NBA roster. One day after signing his contract on March 13, Lee scored 13 points, grabbed four boards and dished out two assists in 17 minutes of action.

Related articles