Men's field, opportunities significantly different at 2019 USBC Team USA Trials

LAS VEGAS - The timing of the United States Bowling Congress Team USA Trials in recent years has allowed the nation's top young talent to share the stage with some of the world's best bowlers, all while competing for spots on Team USA.

While that still may be true on the women's side this week at the Gold Coast Bowling Center, the men's field has a much different look, and the event could give us the first look at the future stars of Team USA.

Imagine returning to school after a festive and relaxing holiday break, and while your friends are talking about new gaming systems and family vacations, you get to show off your new Team USA jacket.

In looking at the standings after three days of men's competition at the USBC Team USA Trials, that scenario could happen next week at schools across the country. Or, in an equivalent capacity for the home-schooled Solomon Salama, who is four ranking points out of the lead with two days of competition remaining.

In 2015, phenom Kamron Doyle won the event at 16 years old, a mark Salama can match with a win. However, there are dozens of other student-athletes also gunning for the top of the 175-player standings.

Regardless, the absence of many of the game's top players - the names responsible for much of the program's success over the last decade - means the potential for some fresh faces on the 2019 edition of Team USA.

Since the men's schedule is going to be light, maybe the group can look for some international adult/youth events.

Why is this such a relevant topic this week in Las Vegas?

The reason many pros are missing from the USBC Team USA Trials, traditionally held the first week of January, is because a lucrative television deal and expanded Professional Bowlers Association Tour schedule have given the pros more opportunities to make a living on the lanes.

That means an earlier start to the PBA Tour season, which kicked off this week in Arlington, Texas, with the limited-field PBA Hall of Fame Classic. Among the 70 players are many with Team USA and Team USA Trials experience.

None of the six players who recently represented the United States at the World Bowling Men's Championships in Hong Kong are in the field this week at the Gold Coast Bowling Center.

In fact, only three competitors in the field have experienced the adult World Championships - David Haynes, John Janawicz and Chris Via.

A handful of others have spent time, and found success, on Team USA and Junior Team USA and within the collegiate ranks, but with far less international miles traveled.

While there are no guarantees that if the PBA Tour stars were competing in Las Vegas they'd dominate, history does show they'd have a significant presence in the standings. The last five Team Trials men's champions were on the roster in Arlington.

Basically, if you're a young bowler looking to make a name for yourself, a fringe player in need of a break or a veteran trying to get back to the spotlight, this week is the best chance for all of those things since 2007, when the bowling landscape changed forever.

That's when World Bowling voted to allow members of professional bowling organizations to compete internationally for their countries.

Shortly after, the first edition of bowling's "Dream Team" became a reality, and while it didn't garner the same global and mainstream attention as when basketball made a similar announcement more than 15 years earlier, the results have been comparable.

Make no mistake, Team USA had no issue finding success prior to the vote, including a team gold medal at the 2006 World Bowling Men's Championships, but the change certainly helped a perennial strong team become a powerhouse.

The Team USA men have been among the top two teams at the World Championships each time since 1999 - that's nine consecutive events - including additional team gold medals in 2008, 2010 and 2017 with help from some of the sport's biggest stars. There also have been countless other medals won in dozens of events across the world.

There's no doubt that some of the brightest PBA Tour stars again will wear the red, white and blue in 2019, but they likely will be serving mentor roles, too.

Don't be mistaken, the event still features a solid and competitive field, probably more experienced and prepared than ever before, thanks to the challenging lane conditions now used in collegiate bowling and growing events like the Junior Gold Championships presented by the Brands of Ebonite, but the youthful glow over the lanes at Gold Coast gives the event a whole new look.

Not to mention, the 20-and-under bowlers this week also can secure spots on Junior Team USA.

The deep, young field did not go unnoticed, bringing in a handful of collegiate coaches looking for recruits.

It also attracted representatives from a few bowling ball manufacturers, including former Team USA member Rob Gotchall, who is scouting for potential staff players for the brands of Ebonite International. He is the company's Marketing Manager of Players & Performance.

Additionally, given the situation, some deserving players will be missing from the 2019 roster.

The National Selection Committee only can select five men based on their resumes, which can be submitted by those who have been Team USA or Junior Team USA members within the last 10 years or among the top 25 in earnings during the 2018 PBA Tour season or top 25 in points. Some of the players who get left out likely would've been top contenders this week in Las Vegas.

The team will include the top four finishers from the Team USA Trials, based on their ranking points over five days, two performance-based picks by the Selection Committee and the U.S. Amateur champion, to meet the minimum of 12 players.

Since this is not a World Championships year for the men, it actually is the best possible time to give some more bowlers the chance to be part of the program and take advantage of the tools. Consider it an investment in, or audition, for the future of the program.

For a player like Via, a three-time Team USA member and team gold medalist at the World Championships in 2017, this week is about regaining his place on the team and perhaps earning a little redemption after being left off the World Championships roster in 2018.

While he was disappointed about not joining the team in Hong Kong, he knows what a tough choice the coaches had selecting just six players from an incredibly talented group.

Via could've been at the PBA Hall of Fame Classic in Arlington, but the pride he has experienced as a member of the team meant he didn't want to leave his fate in the hands of the Committee. The same goes for Darren and Michael Tang, Nick Kruml and Nick Pate, all of whom have spent time in the Team USA program.

Again, it's about priorities, and choosing the right path for you.

On the schedule this year for the Team USA men - a qualifying event for the Pan American Games, Pan American Bowling Confederation Men's Championships, Pan American Games and QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup.

Best of luck to those competing and those waiting to see who's picked.