SportsProf

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Sunday, August 15, 2004

Puerto Rico 92, U.S. 73

I had posted earlier that I couldn't name the three teams that could beat the U.S. out of any medal in the Olympics, but now you can name one, Puerto Rico, which totally outclassed the U.S. men's team today in an opening round game. From start to finish America's putative 51st state pushed past the aggregation of athletic hoopsters from the first 50, and it was the Puerto Ricans who put on the clinic. To quote Allen Iverson, "they play the game the way it's meant to be played. . . it's good for little kids to see."

Allen's just tossing out the great lines for the media, isn't he? I thought that the U.S. team was supposed to play the game the way it was meant to be played, given that a) the game was invented in the U.S. and b) that the U.S. team ostensibly has the best coach in the world coaching it. That said, the international game is all about shooting and playing a stifling zone defense, and most fans know that the way you bust a tough zone is with good outside shooters, of which the U.S. has zero. So, you can have Larry Brown, Phog Allen or Dr. Naismith himself coach the team, but it won't matter much unless the assembled talent can hit the outside jumper.

The U.S. men's hoop team is living in interesting times, that is for sure, and unless they figure out how to solve these zone defenses and hit some jump shots, the "Dream Team" will have a nightmare that it won't be able to live down for a long time.

Perhaps ever.

People still talk about the miracle on ice that took place in the 1980 winter Olympics, when a team of U.S. collegians beat the heavily favored Soviet team, a team of professionals, en route to winning the gold medal. That game, and the U.S. team's run, are among the most memorable surprises in Olympic history.

In the 1980 winter games, the loaded Soviet team did win a medal.

It remains to be seen how this U.S. team will fare.

For if they don't win a medal, well, that might even be a bigger upset than in 1980.

They say that at the end of the day, the talent will win out. There is no question that the U.S. team is laden with basketball talent. More talent than any of the other 11 teams in the Olympics.

For the U.S. game.

They still have to prove in the next week or so that they have the right type of mixture of talent for the international game.

The world is watching, and perhaps under his leadership, Allen Iverson's U.S. squad can rediscover in a hurry how to play the game the way it was meant to be played.

The other international squads have balanced rosters with players who know how to be effective without the basketball. The U.S. squad, so far, looks like a bunch of players who don't necessarily know what to do unless they have the ball. They look unsynchronized at times and their spacing on offense was awful today.

Hats off to the Puerto Rican national team -- you played a great game. (Perhaps the U.S. can finally grant Puerto Rico statehood so that we can get an Olympic team that knows how to play with one another).

As for the U.S. team, well, the prescription is simple -- they have to play better to get into medal contention. Old-time, fundamental basketball, just like Allen Iverson said. Where people play together, all of the time. Where the outside players can hit a few jump shots.

They should give that type of hoops theory a try. After all, they cannot play much worse than they did today.

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