Well, so much for that.
In a game that no one on the East Coast had much of a chance to watch (3:30 a.m., ESPN2), the latest incarnation of Team USA lost to Greece, 101-95, ensuring the bronze to be the best-case scenario (and beating Argentina certainly isn't a given). Here endeth the World Championships. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.
Not only did no one watch on TV, but there were hardly any American journalists on site in Japan to report the latest failure (Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com being the highest-profile attendee—probably due to ESPN's airing the games). Rather than being a sign of overconfidence, I took this to be more of a sign of apathy. Who really cared? If we won, great. If we didn't—who wanted to be there to see it?
And by now, anyone with a pulse should realize that the world has caught up, at least when it comes to international basketball. No one expects the NBA to be suddenly overrun by Greeks and Lithuanians, putting Americans out of work. But in FIBA-sanctioned games, the USA is just another competitor (ask Tim Duncan). It's no longer a case of winning by just showing up.
Still, this year was supposed to be different. After the Larry Brown Error, Mike Krzyzewski was supposed to usher in a new era, utilizing the LeBron/Wade/Melo-led roster to its fullest potential. The addition of Shane Battier was supposed to show a new emphasis on defense, correcting one of the major problems of '04.
But no one should have looked at this as a lock. After all, most international teams play together WAY more than any US teams do, developing chemistry that never clicks here. Individual talent may not measure up overseas, but their team play makes up for many deficiencies. It also appeared that the US didn't take seriously the biggest needs exposed in the Athens Olympics—the needs for more defense and three-point shooting. One player who could have added both, Spurs veteran Bruce Bowen, was the last cut before the World Championships began.
Instead, the USA selection commitee, headed by Jerry Colangelo, seemed to focus on the usual mix of superstars. No veteran playmakers, no three-point specialists. Should anyone be surprised that we experienced the usual result?