Rest assured, America, the gold medal stand for men’s basketball will be occupied by the USA once again. As it will be by our women’s team. As it was by the original Dream Team. The opponents the latter two teams faced simply lack, and lacked, talent. On the other hand, our men will be facing some incredibly talented, i.e. NBA, players.Make no mistake about it, we still dominate from a skills perspective. Of this past year’s NBA all-stars, 19 of them are U.S. citizens. However, many of the clubs we face have a plethora of very good NBA players. Last night’s opponent, Brazil, had four guys regularly seen on the NBA Network - Nene, Leandro Barbarso, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varajao. In addition, arguably their most talented player, Mercelo Huertas, is not in the NBA.
Why not? Because he’s making too much money overseas! Last night he dished out 13 assists to go with his 11 points but was definitely Brazil’s most difficult player for us to guard. When it became a half court game, he penetrated easily, on his own or with the use of a screen. His vision is exceptional and he plays like an overseas baller, i.e. with a sense of flair. No look passes are his forte but they’re made with a sense of purpose, not ego.
So, with the foreign squads catching up in the talent area, how can another American gold be assured? While our guys do seem a little too content to jack up three pointers (one reason is the ability of Chris Paul to penetrate and get them wide open threes) - which can get them into a hole, as it did last night - there are two reasons for Coach K and his staff to feel confident they’ll bring home the gold. Both of them start with the letter D.
One is defense. When the USA got down early, much of which was because of starting 0-9 from behind the (shorter) arc, commentators mentioned it might be time to establish the inside game. You know, that new stat: “get some points in the paint.” Which the USA did. It’s just that the points in the paint were lobs for dunks and more conventional layups off of steals. If you’ve heard the term that’s also currently in vogue in hoops - long - and you’re not really sure what it means or the difference between long and the better known - tall - watch our men play D. From the traps (and the four arms) that seem to impede every passing lane, to the rotations that shut down the lanes that an offensive player does manage to locate, Team USA forces turnovers that lead to easy buckets - and demoralize opponents.
The other D stands for depth. The aforementioned Huertas was dropping dimes like Rockefeller but, in the much more physical international game, he eventually needed a rest. In came a 19 year old Brazilian and what happened to him could have been called child abuse. He had difficulty not only advancing his dribble, but in simply retaining it. Team USA’s roster affords the coaching staff exactly what every coach dreams of - going to the bench and raising the level of intensity - without decreasing the level of talent.
The only way the USA can be derailed is with ego problems an Coach K won’t let that happen. He takes a page out of John Wooden’s book and, as hard as it might be to believe watching some of them, he gets the guys to buy in:
“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”