This is the aforementioned, promised blog about the current state of the USA basketball team at the Olympics. And, the first of two blogs about the Olympics. . .if you don't care about basketball, skip to the next one, it's about politics :)
The Olympics begin tomorrow, and some of the athletes with the most pressure on them are the members of the USA men's basketball team. The reason for the pressure is that we haven't won a major international competition since 2000.
There are many reasons for this, but most of them are mis-reported, in my opinion. Here's my analysis of the recent history, and my prediction for the Olympics.
1) The US team did not fall from prominence because American players are "ball hogs" or "individualists".
If you look at the 2004 Olympic team, or even the disasterous 2002 World Championship team, you don't see guys going one-on-one all the time,. . . or one guy having 38 points, etc. . . . . Our teams knew they could not win with one-on-one basketball.
2) The World is not "catching up" to the US in the sense of "we're getting worse and they have better athletes/players now".
The world has improved a great deal since the global explosion of basketball in 1992. The way they've improved: coming to America :)
The best international players are 1) Manu Ginobli (2004 gold medalist) 2) Dirk Nowitzki (regularly scores over 30 in international play 3) Pau Gasol (2006 world champion)
All of these guys are NBA players and drastically improved their game AFTER PLAYING IN THE NBA. So, I prefer to say that the NBA talent/grade has not dropped off, . .but we've trained other countries here,. . . very well I might add.
3) The US has not lost because we haven't sent good enough players.
This is a hard one for me to swallow because even in 2004 I felt like we could've sent a better team (this was the team of AI, Tim Duncan, and Shawn Marion). But, alas, it doesn't matter anymore. There are too many NBA-level international players, and its our own fault if we can't put the best 5 guys out there for our country. So, we can't blame it on that.
The two biggest reasons that the US has been unsuccesful lately are:
1) lack of continuity in the national team
2) lack of a game plan or system.
Before 2002 we did not need a "system" to win in international basketball. Our talent was so high above anyone else's that we didn't need a specific system. Once the world started to come here and learn, and we weren't sending our best guys. . . . . . we were defeated.
Also, other countries have had the same core in their international teams for years. The Argentinian team is essentially the same team from 6 years ago. There are 0 players on the US roster that played in the 2002 World Championship.
Some argue that the other countries aren't playing together year round either, so we can't make that excuse. But, when you reconvene with your nation's team. . . and its the same guys every time. . . .that makes a HUGE difference.
Why I think we win the Gold this year
1) We have a system
Coach K has had these guys for 3 years now, running the same stuff and putting his philosophy on the floor. This is huge.
We have an undeniable talent advantage over every team. But, now we have a TEAM who is on the same page with one another after 3 years of experience doing the same things.
2) We have relatively the same team as we did in 2006
So, these guys have won together, lost together, and learned together. That's what went wrong in 2004, we had just dominated everyone at the Tournament of the Americas in 2003, defeating Argentina easily, and all the other teams. Then, before the Olympics, half of our team went away. TD, and Iverson were the two "core" players who were left and Coach Larry Brown didn't feel comfortable playing LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, or Carmelo Anthony.
So, in the 2004 games, we may not even have had the talent advantage over some international teams. . it was that bad. I mean, Stephon Marbury was on that team :)
Will we win? Watch two games closely. . . in the preliminaries, we play Spain and Greece. Both of those teams have beaten the USA lately. I actually think it would be good for us to lose one of these games to help our focus. (you can lose some games in the round robin and still advance to the medal round).
There has definitely been an arrogance problem for team USA in the last few years. That's what happened in 2006 when Greece defeated us at the WC's. The arrogance was partly on Coach K's shoulders for not changing up the lineup at crucial moments.
But, all of that has been good for us, as our arrogance has given way to focus (as you can see in the Olympic tune-ups), and I think we win this year.
Go Team USA!