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Team USA: What Now?

Surely we can do better than that. Can’t we?

The Olympic Games-Tokyo 2020
If Team USA is indeed pointing fingers, as several reporters have suggested, bronze might be a reach in Tokyo.
Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

As we said before the game, France wasn’t going to be a pushover but we didn’t think the US would just fall apart in the clutch.

But that’s what happened, as Team USA missed its final nine shots, including five on one possession.

For a number of reasons we weren’t able to watch, but this sounds a lot like the pre Mike Krzyzewski teams that got behind and tried to trade twos for threes or, in this case, getting nada. Those teams got rattled instead of getting busy.

And in more bad news, the U.S. players are reportedly grumbling about running “San Antonio’s offense” under coach Gregg Popovich.

That kind of gets to part of the logic for hiring Coach K, a college coach: there is no faction. It’s not like Lakers were playing for the Celtics coach or anything. In the best sense, he was an outsider with a fresh perspective.

Moreover, Coach K made respect and communication a main part of his Team USA system. It sounds like Popovich isn’t doing those things very well. At this point, barring a stunning turnaround, we can’t see him staying on.

As we’ve said all along though, everyone should get an asterisk this year, so probably Team USA should as well. Remember, the whole team wasn’t together until Friday, because the league schedule ran late thanks to Covid.

Even so, pandemic means global. So why can they do it and we can’t?

We think there’s one key difference that’s often overlooked in this discussion and it explains a lot: how we develop our players.

Our basic system runs talented players through AAU teams (and then maybe a bit of college) which could be workable if they did a better job of training young guys in fundamentals and teamwork. But they don’t. And why don’t they?

Two words.

David Freakin’ Stern.

Okay, that’s three. You could toss in NBA and make it four. So sue us.

The point is that under Stern, the NBA began to market individual stars and spectacular plays rather than good teamwork and solid fundamental basketball. Our young players noticed.

The other countries train their young athletes from a young age and emphasize fundamentals and teamwork.

So has Krzyzewski for that matter.

The bottom line in basketball is that, usually, great teamwork beats great talent.

Just look at these legendary games and teams:

  • Portland over Philly in 1977
  • Villanova over Georgetown, 1985
  • Duke over UNVL, 1991
  • UNC over Michigan, 1993
  • UConn over Duke, 1999
  • Wisconsin over undefeated Kentucky, 2015

In almost every case, the losing teams had more talent but the winning teams had more cohesion.

Our game in the US has evolved to put a focus on the spectacular. A great dunk, a slick pass, a block into the 12th row.

But a dunk is still two points, no matter how much energy you expend, a slick pass is interesting but the point is just to get the ball there as safely as possible, and a block out of bounds is, when you get down to it, just a turnover with wasted energy.

The Aussies, Nigerians and French and everyone else will continue to beat us until we relearn some lessons that we forgot about our game, the first and foremost being that it’s a team sport.

We think that incoming Director of USA Basketball, Duke legend Grant Hill, is up to the job, but it won't be easy. We’d like to repeat our suggestion that the most logical guy for the job, a guy with vast experience in college, the NBA and international ball, is Rick Pitino. Among his many coaching strengths, Pitino’s teams defend and shoot very well. No lead is safe.