By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
This Isn’t The NBAThat Team USA Is Playing Against; It’s The World’s Best Teams
I’m not buying into Jerry Colangelo or Mike Krzyzewski. Not right now. Not after they beat a Puerto Rico team like a bunch of defenseless three year olds. Sorry not buying into this right now and it’s not because I’m unpatriotic either.
See I donï¿½t look upon beating up on Puerto Rico as a sign that Team USA is back. Team USA hasnï¿½t even arrived yet. Their first order of business is to continue to understand the international rules and try to have a good showing in Japan.
But to win the FIBA World Championships? Come on people do you understand what we are talking about here? As I found out this past Saturday in doing my weekly radio segment for a Richmond, Virginia radio station, evidently nobody understands the seriousness of this task.
What seems to be the problem here is that everyone is thinking that the USA has an easy task and nobody, including those within some inner basketball circles, understand the mountain that lays in front of Coach K and his team.
DIFFERENT RULES MEANS DIFFERENT SKILL SETS First of all what everyone has to understand about the 2006 World Championships is that Team USA is in Group D, probably the “weakest” group of the four groups in the tournament. Why is group play so important?
Well, if Team USA does not defeat the other five teams in their group with a good record of wins and losses, they will be going home early.
The teams that Team USA will face in their group play are: Puerto Rico, Senegal, Slovenia, Italy and China. Of the teams that could give them fits, a more game faced Puerto Rico team, Italy and China are the tough teams.
A cakewalk some people may say but let’s understand something. If Team USA was slotted in groups A, B, or C, nobody would be saying that they would be favored to win the tournament.
For example, in Group A the teams are: Argentina, France, Lebanon, Nigeria, Serbia & Montenegro and Venezuela. Group B teams are: Angola, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Panama and Spain. Group C teams are: Australia, Brazil, Greece, Lithuania, Qatar and Turkey.
The competition is fierce and even when Team USAA gets out of group pool play, they will then have to take on the group winners and that in itself may not be such an easy task.
But beyond the competition, Team USA has to understand the rules. As I argued with one radio host on the Richmond, VA show Saturday, just because basketball was created in this country, that doesnï¿½t necessarily mean that weï¿½re the best at it.
When it comes to international competition, Team USA is going to be at a serious disadvantage. I want to go back to the group teams for a moment and pick out just two teams for you to understand how hard American ball players will have at playing in the international spotlight.
In Group A you have France and Argentina. On the French roster you have NBA players Mickael Pietrus, Boris Diaw, Tony Parker and Ronny Turiaf. For Argentina itï¿½s Manu Ginobili, Louis Scola, Fabricio Oberto, Andres Nicioni and Carlos Delfino as the more notable players.
By the way these are the Argentian players who won Olympic gold. Of the names that I mentioned for this team, only Scola is not in the NBA yet. I singled out these two teams because these are the two teams that I have as favorites in this tournament and it comes from the fact that they have a roster that has been playing together for several years.
And if thereï¿½s an unwritten rule that many Americans need to understand, it is the fact that in international ball, these countries truly work at their game of representing their country in these types of tournaments. It is something that Team USA should have been doing a decade ago.
What also is going to be difficult for Team USA is the rules of international play.
Here is the quick run down of the rules: you are allowed to knock the ball off of the cylinder (basket interference in the NBA), true zone defenses are allowed, there are four ten minute quarters instead of four 12 minute quarters, the court is a little smaller and the lane is a trapezoid.
Those are just some of the rule changes in this game but these are the rules that will trip up the NBA players the most. Their international NBA counterparts will not have a problem adapting because they have played by these rules their whole lives.
If Team USA is going to survive this tournament, they will have to learn to play as a team and embrace a team concept that is so unfamiliar to what was basically an all-star assemblage by the powers at be in Colorado.
WINNING GROUP IS CRUCIAL TO SUCCESS One of the other arguments that I had on Saturdayï¿½s broadcast was the fact that it seems that people believe that the NBA players are the best in the world. Okay letï¿½s get something perfectly straight on who are the best players.
When it comes to one on one play making ability, the American NBA player probably is the best player for that category but does that mean a guy like DeWayne Wade will be able to have his way against Argentina or France or Germany?
No way. When it comes to being the best at playing TEAM basketball, it is the player who has played under the FIBA rules because that is how FIBA is built.
There is this misconception that because we have the worldï¿½s most entertaining game, that we should be able to dominate these countries. But in the scope of things, when you are talking about a tournament in which your Olympic playoff berth is at stake, for Team USA it means being able to defeat each and every team that comes their way.
The task they have in front of them is to be one of the top four teams in-group play and be ready to move onto the next round.
To win in group play, Team USA has to realize that 1) nobody is a pushover, and 2) that everyone is gunning for them to be the team that sends the Americans home. Within their own group there are five teams that want to send them home packing.
China and Italy would love to be the team that does it but donï¿½t think the other teams in Senegal and Slovenia arenï¿½t capable either. What Team USA has to realize is that in this world of international basketball, being an NBA star doesnï¿½t mean anything to anyone except that you are the privileged Yankee who thinks they are better than everybody else because you are seen around the world.
In group play, Team USA will have to leave every ego at home and come into this tournament looking to just make a good showing and build from there.
EVEN IF THEY WIN A BERTH, THEIR JOB ISNï¿½T DONE Letï¿½s say that Team USA comes out of this tournament with their Olympic berth. Do you think the job is done? Of course not. Now comes the real hard work of actually working a twelve-man roster and being ready to Beijing in 2008.
While other teams will simply go back to their home countries and work on getting cohesion down, for Team USA this team will have to continue to find quality competition during the NBA off season.
The toll on your body will be excruciating because what Coach K has to do is be ready to have some deserters along the way, to have some players come up with season ending injuries and for the hardship of actually trying to find that quality competition that will keep them fresh.
Barnstorming across the country to play exhibition games will not be the solution to the competition problem. He and his staff may have to seriously think about playing in some FIBA sanctioned tournaments with this newly assembled team.
The task of winning gold at the Olympics is so great that in 2007, some very disheartening events could be coming their way. If Colangelo believes that he has the horses to finish the race, this team may go out and complete the charge of bringing gold back to the United States in 2008.
However there is still a very pervasive mindset amongst NBA players and their fans that everybody else are pushovers and that we are always that dominant in tournament play. If Colangelo wants to go down as the man who restored Team USA Basketball to itï¿½s rightful place in glory, he will have to start developing another team a year after the Olympics is over.
The goals are lofty for this team and under this tournament, the magnifying glass is huge. The World Championship tournament isnï¿½t about who has the best individual talent on their roster. It is about playing team basketball and accomplishing a goal.
For Team USA this means that they will have to realize that they are just one of several good teams in this tournament. They will have to realize that everyone will be gunning for them simply because of who they are.
But if this team really wants to succeed and if this program really wants to get better, they will have to learn how to work in this type of play structure and learn how to bounce between the NBA style of play and the FIBA style of play. The international teams do it quite well and for Team USAï¿½s success, they will have to learn to do the same.
NOTE: Find out more about the World Championships by going to the official website at http://www.fiba.com/pages/eng/fe/06_wcm/index.asp .