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Bremer - USA Hoops Must Start From Scratch

After the pathetic performance by the U.S. Men's Basketball Team that finished sixth at the World Championships this summer in Indianapolis, virtually every analyst in the country has written their own opinion of how to fix USA Basketball and prevent such a debacle from happening again.

Some say we need to hire a full-time coach for the program. Sure. Some say we need to change the criteria for selecting players for the team. Definitely. Others say we need to bring back the NBA's best players, like Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Whatever.

I'm sure Shaq, Kobe and a number of NBA All-Stars are already lining up for the chance to "bring glory back to USA Basketball." In fact, while some have mentioned hiring a full-time coach like Larry Brown or Dean Smith, I believe the great Phil Jackson may be making his way out of the woods to volunteer for the job of resurrecting the program. Thanks, Phil.

But the problem is much deeper than that. Those who happened to watch Team USA unravel could tell it wasn't due to lack of talent. Heck, that team still had NBA All-Stars like Reggie Miller, Michael Finley and Paul Pierce, who have proven to be some of the most talented at their positions. Teams from Argentina and Spain simply knew how to play the game better than their U.S. counterparts. They ran screens, moved without the ball, played defense and shot the ball better than most NBA teams. And that, my friends, is called fundamentals.

Over the past several years, the play in the NBA has deteriorated to a point where one-on-one moves dominate games, bounce passes and hitting shots off the glass have become "lost arts", and dunks are a measure of greatness. In fact the NBA games look more and more like Slam Ball contests, only without the trampoline mats. It's because of this that many coaches have stopped teaching fundamentals and, instead, have focused more on what their players need to succeed at the next level.

The problem needs to be addressed at the high school level, when kids go to prestigious summer camps to work on their reputations (rather than their games) in order to get noticed by big-time college programs or NBA scouts. Fundamentals are more of an afterthought at these camps, and most of the sessions consist mainly of All-Star games in which it's all about how many shots you can take in a five-minute span.

The reason college basketball recruiting is such an inexact science is that analysts who try to evaluate the players at these camps are doing so based on the games they play and not on the drills they run. That wouldn't be the case if these camps, with the help of high school coaches, worked with the players on fundamental basketball skills. You know, the skills that were taught when the game was young and untainted by pop culture.

If players were taught to play the game as it was originally intended to be played, we wouldn't see them going up through the system without the knowledge of the team concept and basic basketball skills. But until these changes occur, we will constantly be reminded of how little our NBA All-Stars really know about the game every time Team USA takes the floor against foreign competition.

In fact, it is already evident in college basketball, as well as the pros, that foreign players already come equipped with important skills learned at an early age. Hawaii has reached the NCAA Tournament the past two years on the shoulders of a skilled Yugoslavian named Pedrag Savovic. NC State fans will tell you that a European by the name of Ilian Evtimov played a large role in the Wolfpack's resurgence. And more foreign players are expected to have an immediate impact this year, with Florida's Christian Drejer, Michigan State's Erazem Lorbek and St. Louis' Izchak Ohanon all passing on NBA money to play college ball. Oh, did I forget to mention that a majority of the NBA's impact rookies last year came from outside the U.S.?

It's time our coaches figured out that America's young players have fallen behind on the basketball learning curve. Fundamentals are needed to succeed, not reputations. That's what Team USA was lacking.

I never thought I would say this about the state of basketball in the U.S., but maybe, someday, we'll catch up with the rest of the world.

* * *

I've written several times before how awful the NCAA's 5/8 scholarship rule is, but how it is affecting Georgia State this year is simply atrocious. The rule, which limits teams to five scholarship players in a recruiting class and eight over a two-year span, was respected by Panthers' coach Lefty Driesell when he signed the maximum amount of players to scholarships this past year.

But last fall, one of the members of that class, center Andre Tooks, died in a car accident and Driesell hoped to offer the open scholarship to another recruit by the name of Herman Favors. The NCAA, however, stuck to their idiotic rule and told Driesell that the scholarship could not be reused, meaning Favors would have to pay his own way as a walk-on. Since then, Favors has been parking cars at Turner Field to earn money, and donors have been calling into ESPN to help the freshman pay his tuition.

This appalling denial by the NCAA is another reminder of how most of their decision makers and not only heartless, but brainless. Is there no room for certain unforeseen circumstances, like death? If you're not interested in donating to Favors' cause, then I encourage you to contact your local NCAA representative and tell them to stick their 5/8 rule where the sun doesn't shine. Either that or offer them the number of your local sanitarium.

by Chip Bremer