My main man Tobias is, as we’d say in the ‘States, fighting the good fight this morning with his “US national team announced – are you scared?” Mr. T. engaged in some positive cheerleading for Europe in stating that teams like Lithuania, Spain and Russia need not be scared at all of Team USA.
Do European national teams play at Team USA’s level? Absolutely. Should the Europeans be afraid of the American Dirty Dozen? Well, a little creeped out, to be sure; just look at the arsenal one more time. Will Team USA take the gold in Beijing? Yes.
While only now in the ‘States is the mainstream willing to admit that national-level European ball has “caught up with” that of the US, this writer believes the world will learn a valuable lesson about the new Team USA: Namely, that the red, white and blue can in fact play the best team ball in the world.
Blinded by the star power in 1992, people forget that the Dream Team of lore was an incredible team, always making the extra pass, sharing the ball and playing tight D. Along the way to bottoming out in 2004, the Team USA roster had become polluted by the showboating Vince Carters of the world; great leaders like George Karl were at the helm; and USA Basketball the organization just didn’t seem to get it.
It’s different now, though, I’m telling y’all here on The Continent.
You still need to have a team and really take pride in representing your nation. I do know guys like Dirk Nowitzki are busting their a** off right now, with three or four training sessions a day, just to qualify for the Olympics. Do you really think one of the guys above does care that much?
Yes, I do. Kobe Bryant. On whom do you think Kobe is going to take out his frustrations at barely competing in the NBA Finals? Um, Lithuania, Russia and especially Spain. Today, Kobe reckons that Pau Gasol is soft, and Bryant will be taking it to the hole against the Gasol Brothers all day long in a semifinal matchup.
And please, world in general, make a note of the attitudinal change reflected in some of these post-announcement quotes as well:
“I’ve always seen greatness in the Olympics, but that was never one of my dreams. I never really expected to be on the Olympic team, especially in my first year. I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into. … Now, we respect the game so much. We respect the team basketball that they play internationally so much.” – Dwayne Wade
“Going through that experience [at the 2004 Olympic debacle] really helped me to learn the international game.” – Carmelo Anthony
“We’re a team already. The thing that this program has done is … provide continuity and relationships. … We’ll hit the ground running.” – coach Mike Krzyzewski
Assuming that Team USA can play the team game, here’s how the Continental competition looks on the other side of the Atlantic:
• Germany is Nowitski’s one-man show and German basketball is at an ebb in general. When was the last time a German team placed in the Euroleague Final Four? Or final eight? The 1980s? And how many Germans are playing in the NBA right now?
• Spain lacks stamina. Here’s what the NBA Finals and EuroBasket 2007 taught me: Spanish ballers have a problem with a long grind of games. Check out the Russia-Spain final again. The fresh-looking Team Russia runs rings around haggard and possibly hungover Team Espana while shutting down a much better (and home!) team to eke out the win. This level of slightly less than 100 percent energy doesn’t increase your longevity in the Olympic tournament.
• Russia can’t play Team USA’s game, but Team USA can play Russia’s. In terms of T-E-A-M, Russia has a nice advantage on most teams in the tourney, as many of these guys run with two or three pro teams in the big country; plus, Andrei Kirilenko almost always shows that latent virtuoso ability typically repressed in Salt Lake City on the international stage. But Russia may be the most “American” of all the Euro teams in style, playing a (relative) power game favoring lots of action in post down low. The strongman Russian style has been in effect since the CCCP days, though, and it didn’t work against Team USA back then, either.
• Lithuania … well, they’re a bit of an enigma. But, um, the USA is not afraid.
Tell you what, though, Tobias and I see 100% eye-to-eye on two things:
You might be the best guy in the world, but if somebody wants it more than you do – you will lose…
As excited as I am about the start of the Euroleague season, I’m excited about this year’s Olympics…
This American’s pumped as well; can’t wait to see Team USA on the court…