To Change Stern’s Perception of American Basketball, The Quest Begins In San Antonio

By Gregory Moore
Updated: June 29, 2006

“They made it very clear from the start that this is a very serious competition. This isn’t an all-star game. Whatever our names are, however big we are back home, that’s all out.”

— Nolan Smith, Duke recruit

SAN ANTONIO — The above message may well become the mission statement for Team USA Basketball whenever they play in a FIBA tournament.

This week, starting with yesterday’s first game at St. Mary’s Greehey Fieldhouse, USA Basketball is looking to change the way it is perceived by the country and the world and it is beginning with the U18 squad assembled by University of Washington’s Lorenzo Romar.

The Tournament of Americas runs until July 2nd but the impact of this tournament will be felt by anyone involved with basketball; especially after what NBA commissioner David Stern said during the NBA Finals: “American basketball at the lower levels is a travesty.” Whether basketball aficionado wants to believe Stern’s assessment or not, one thing is true: USA Basketball on the men’s side of the ledger is a mess. At the crux of the problem is the fact that a lackadaisical attitude has permeated the program from the senior team of NBA all stars on down. For coaches like Romar, he wants to nip that cancer as soon as possible.

“You’re trying to mold, trying to teach, trying to tweak, in order to get everybody on the same page,” said Romar, who has been at his alma mater since 2003. “Every guy out here has been someone their team caters to. Now we’re asking them to cater to the team.”

The former NBA player understands what hard work is all about and he understands what character is all about as was evident in a recent Seattle Post-Intelligence column on one of his player, Brandon Roy.

USA Basketball is under scrutiny because the program has been floundering ever since the 1996 Dream Team had won a gold medal. The biggest problem is that the organization continues to think that at the senior level, NBA superstars are the way to get the job done. As has been very evident the past two tournaments with that team, this is not the case.

Yet, the U18 team has had better success because the team is more receptive to what the coaches are trying to employ in international play. And what the officials and this coaching staff don’t want to have happen is the let down that has happened with the two previous teams in international competition; blowing leads because of showboating.

“Even though the U.S. has such an advantage in terms of talent, some of these teams can put out five, six kids who play at a high level,” Canada coach Greg Francis said. “If they get some chemistry going, talent can be neutralized.” Romar and his staff of Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt and DePaul’s Jerry Wainwright. Unlike the coaching staff that included former head coach Larry Brown at the senior level, this coaching staff and USA Basketball officials are determined to have success in this tournament.

“The whole team would be mad if we didn’t win,” Smith said.

“Right now, all we’re talking about is winning that gold medal.” Stern’s assessment may not seem to bode well at this particular level of basketball but it is the playing attitude of some current NBA players that also has Stern questioning the desire of American basketball players.

What has happened the past few times for the Team USA basketball organization is indeed a travesty by the players selected. Hopefully this new group will have the desire to put out and win nothing but gold.