Column: USA hoops team still has realistic shot at the gold

Published 11:18 pm Friday, August 20, 2004

By Staff
It seems like the new things to do this summer is bash the USA Olympic men's basketball team.
Sure they lost to a sub-par Puerto Rico team in their first game, and they've struggled against second-tier teams such as Greece and Australia, but don't give up on the red, white and blue just yet.
Clearly the team we sent to Athens is not the Dream Team of 1992, which boasted some of the best basketball players in history. This year's squad doesn't even have the best players in the NBA.
They don't shoot well. They don't pass well. They can't break the zone. They can't play defense. There's no way they can hang with Serbia or Spain or any of the better teams in the Games.
With all those reasons to lose, how can they win? Because, while they may not play team ball very well, they're still the best athletes and most talented players in the world.
The USA looked sloppy in it's loss to Puerto Rico. But the team has improved each of the past two games, both wins. Sure it was down by 12 in the first quarter yesterday against Australia, but the players finally woke up in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory.
That fourth quarter was just what coach Larry Brown's team needed to propel them through these games. The knock on this year's Olympians is that they can't shoot from outside, which is what teams are forcing them to do with their zone defenses.
In that fourth quarter, however, the USA hit 12 of 16 shots. For the game, the U.S. shot more than 57 percent from the field (we'll overlook that fact that they were still horrendous from the 3-point line, going 3-for-17).
The United States has two games left before heading into the single-elimination portion of the Olympics. They play Lithuania on Saturday and Angola on Monday.
The talk of these games has been the abundance of foreign-born NBA players playing for their home countries. Lithuania and Angola, however, are not two of the teams benefiting from NBA superstars.
Lithuania has second-year Kings' backup Darius Songaila, who averaged a whopping 4.6 points per game in his rookie season, on its roster, but that's all the NBA talent the USA's next two opponents have.
That's not to underscore the talent of both countries. Both have great shooters and play great defense, but they aren't the best teams in the world.
They will give the NBAers a run, but the USA should be able to pull out two hard-fought victories. If so, our boys will be 4-1 in the preliminaries, which will be good enough to earn a spot in the medal tournament.
That's where the competition heats up. But if the USA continues to play they way they did in the second half against Australia, they can win the gold.
The players have put excuses, and the embarassing loss to Puerto Rico, behind them and are starting to realize that they have no excuse not to win these Olympics. No other team in the world has the athleticism and raw talent that the U.S. does, which might just be enough to vault our team to the gold medal.
While those two qualities can be beaten by sharp shooting and a zone defense (as we have seen), the USA's talent level is so much higher than the rest of the world that the other teams shouldn't be a problem.
The 2004 Olympics have proven other countries are quickly catching up to the USA on the hardwood. And, someday, a foreign land will take the gold from us in the sport that we invented - but it won't be this year.