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Could any current UNC basketball players make the Olympic team?

As the U.S. men’s basketball team again looks assured for gold in Rio, what would the team look like without professionals?

Pittsburgh v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

It has been a long time since an active college basketball player last suited up for the United States in the Olympics. Since the rule change in the 1980s that allowed professionals to play for the squad, only Duke’s Christian Laettner was able to break through and make the roster. Even more impressive, Laettner made the Dream Team of the 1992 Olympics, although he was the last man off the bench.

As the men’s team gears up for what’s sure to be another gold medal showing in Rio, it’s easy to wonder what the team would look like with amateurs back in the red, white and blue. After the U.S. messed around and only came away with a bronze medal in Athens in 2004, the team has been bolstered by a succession of the sport’s best players and athletes: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and many more. Once again, it’s a foregone conclusion that the Americans will come out on top.

So, what exactly would a team in 2016 look like if only amateurs could be selected? And, more importantly, would any Tar Heels represent the team? UNC, despite all of its success both in the collegiate game and producing quality NBA talent, hasn’t had many players on the U.S. team. A decade and a half separates the participation of Vince Carter and now Harrison Barnes. But, with North Carolina reaching the Final Four last season, Chapel Hill would have a much better chance of representation in the Olympics.

Immediately, three current players stand out as viable candidates for an all-college U.S. team: point guard Joel Berry II, forward Justin Jackson, and big man Isaiah Hicks. Berry II become one of the best point guards in the country throughout last season, and there’s really nothing he can’t do on the court. He picked up his shooting from distance (nearly two three’s a game on 44.6%), can ignite the fast break with his defensive abilities and court awareness and even finished second on the team in scoring (12.8 points). Next season, without Paige taking away some of his ball handling duties, Berry II should thrive as the unquestioned initiator of the offense and become an All-American candidate. It’s not difficult to see Berry II finding a spot on the U.S. roster with his versatility, experience and personality.

Jackson and Hicks would both present a more difficult decision than Berry II. Jackson is another extremely versatile player who can contribute in a lot of different ways. He’s deadly on the fast break, either finishing at the rim or making smart, quick passes. He’s solid on defense and, much like Berry II, gets his long arms into passing lines and can quickly turn the ball back the other way. But, Jackson struggles with his consistency, often missing some of his quirky layups and going ice cold from distance.

Hicks might be even more of an enigma for the men’s basketball team but, in a way, that could work in his favor. He certainly wouldn’t start on the team, like he barely ever has in Chapel Hill. Yet, just like he has been for Carolina, he could be an instant impact player coming off the bench. He can dunk pretty much anything, has a decent mid-range game, and gets to the foul line effectively. Yes, he’d foul a lot and his defense could use some work, but he could play almost the exact same role for the U.S. that he does for UNC. However, he doesn’t have starting experience like other big men would have, and it would probably wiser to go for guys comfortable playing big-time minutes, even if they wouldn’t in such a competition.

Moreover, this isn’t simply a list looking for the best 12 players in the country. If it was, unfortunately, Duke, Kentucky and Kansas would probably make up the entire roster. For a thought experiment like this, fit and potential comfort with the international game needs to be accounted for. The international game is, obviously, different than the American style of play, especially college. Trapping and full-court defense would be an interesting wrinkle, but the emphasis on shooting, ball handling, and technical skills would also be a challenge for many collegiate players.

Here comes the downside for both Jackson and Hicks: their tremendous lack of shooting. The United States has been destroying other countries in warm-up games with 3-point shooting, and Jackson would be a major liability there. Some of the lineups trotted out feature four, if not five, guys who can all make three’s. At this point, DeMarcus Cousins player center is more deadly from distance than Jackson at the three-spot. Even if Jackson played as a small-ball four, a position that has turned Carmelo Anthony into one of the deadliest international players around, he would still struggle shooting the ball.

The lack of shooting from Hicks isn’t as big of a deal, but he’d need to prove he can make mid-range jumpers. He has done so at Chapel Hill yet, again, in limited minutes and not with a ton of volume. Whereas Jackson’s best role is a small-ball four, Hicks could similarly thrive as a small-ball five. There’s not as much as size and muscle in the international game, and Hicks could certainly throw his body around and dunk like crazy. His defense is still suspect, though, and there’s no evidence to suggest he can be a rim-and-paint protector all by himself.

In short, Berry II makes the squad, while Hicks most likely would have to prove himself in practices and exhibitions. The lack of shooting from Jackson would be his downfall. So, maybe even in only selecting amateurs, the Heels only get one guy on the roster. Still, it might be for the best. If Coach K was limited to amateurs, the whole roster might just be Blue Devils. That’d be a horrid sight.