Tuesday, July 24, 2007

USA basketball comes home with silver

For many Americans who woke up and absent-mindedly scrolled through ESPN.com's Men's Basketball page on Monday morning, one of the headlines on the right probably didn't seem all that surprising.

"Team USA settles for silver in U19 championships."

A quick click on the link reveals a painfully brief article that summed up the entire championship game in two words: free throws.

If you weren't careful, you might just assume that is just another one of those international humiliations where the "street-balling" kids from the U.S. again showed the need for an emphasis on team work and fundamentals in international play.

It's true that the U.S. did shoot only 45.8% from the line, missing numerous free throws in the final minutes of the fourth quarter before losing to Serbia in the championship game by five, 74-69. It's also true that the U.S. committed 19 turnovers and only shot 28% from beyond the three-point arc.

But this U.S. team cannot be judged by the same criticism that has landed recent Team USAs in such hot water. Collected from high schools, colleges and universities from around the country, these teenagers battled for a week and a half over in Serbia and selfish and undisciplined would not be two adjectives to describe them.

In fact, when you realize that this entire U.S. squad only met each other less than a month ago, it is remarkable that they came within five points of a world championship. Many players on European squads come up through the ranks in basketball academies and often play with each other extensively before they compete on the national team.

Players from France had been playing in the national system since they were 14 years old, and yet the United States was able to dispatch the Frenchies in the semifinals behind a double-double from North Carolina's Deon Thompson. A late three-pointer from Davidson's Stephen Curry sent the U.S. into the championship game despite the Americans having trailed for most of the contest.

As soon as the buzzer sounded, the Americans rushed the court in jubilation and celebrated their come-from-behind victory. While they certainly wanted to win it all from the very beginning, this team was not playing "not-to-lose." They enjoyed every minute of the process and a win was just as exciting for them as it was for any other team in the tournament.

That's how it's going to be like from now on. The U.S. will have to lower themselves and get into the mud to compete against everyone else. They can no longer jump over or run around the rest of the world. Sometimes they'll win nailbiters and they deserve to be happy. Sometimes they'll lose big, and they need to be mad. Sometimes they are going to miss free throws and three-pointers, but every great team goes cold sometimes. At least this group is a team, and that's an important first step.

1 comment:

M. Reed '74 said...

Well written. Your insights and commentary are right on the money.
I still think the team would have been better if Stephen had played more minutes. Shooters like Stephen will sometimes miss 3 or 4 shots then get hot. He never had that opportunity. Those are the disadvantages of an all star type squad I guess.