Team USA hasn’t even taken the court yet in Tokyo and there’s alredy been furious reactions to the shaky exhibition losses to Nigeria and Australia.
The main problem is just time: the NBA season was messed up by Covid and is ending quite late by normal standards with three members just arriving in Tokyo right after the Finals ended. There’s just not time to do much team building.
And naturally, people are questioning the process. What Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski designed worked very well for 12 years. Is it outdated?
Should we go to a standing national team as William C. Rhoden suggests? He spoke to Sam Mitchell, who also thought it was time.
But how would that work? The best players are trying to get to the NBA. How would you organize a team in that environment?
What Coach K and Colangelo did was to establish a pool of candidates who spent time together and developed an esprit d’corps which would have surely worked better had Covid not happened.
However, after the Australian loss, someone puckishly asked why didn't we just send Baylor? And that’s a great idea - assuming everyone is willing to take the risk of injury and so forth.
Because that Baylor team would have probably done very well.
Or you could just take a promising young NBA team like, say, Atlanta, and let them do the job - assuming, again, everyone buys in.
Realistically though, it’s hard to find a better approach than what K and Colangelo came up with. If we had had several weeks to prepare, this team would be much further along. If you think about it, Dean Smith had a very similar (and visionary) approach in 1976: he took four of his own players, to huge criticism, and also took Tate Armstrong from Duke, Kenny Carr from NC State and Steve Sheppard from Maryland.
All those guys had an understanding of what Smith’s system was like and they of course won.
But the other thing is this. After three straight gold medals, people got used to thinking that it’s easy, that of course we’ll win.
Well, it’s not and it’s never going to be easy again. In fact, there were some close games in the last three Olympics for the US. Team USA beat Spain 118-107 in 2008, nipped Lithuania 99-94 and beat Spain 107-100 for the gold in 2012. In 2016, the US got a scare from Serbia, 94-91, nipped France 100-97 and Spain was close at 82-76 in the gold medal game.
Rhoden is partially correct: talent isn’t enough. You need team cohesion because when these other teams challenge, you have to respond as a team. You also need a coach who can translate a vision into reality.
After Tokyo, Grant Hill takes over from Colangelo as managing director of Team USA. We’ve said before that in our opinion, the way to win is to leverage US athleticism and press everyone into next year. Toss in an aggressive three point attack and it’s going to be very hard to stop.
And again, the best guy to do that, and someone who would probably take it as a chance for major redemption, is Rick Pitino. And that would be fun to watch.