Work still left to be done

Nope, it wasn’t a fluke this time. This wasn’t the 2002 world championships in Indianapolis, where a group of spoiled NBA stars failed to put team before self. And this wasn’t the 2004 Summer Olympics, where a lack of team chemistry and preparation caused problems. No, this was the United States men’s basketball team just plain getting outplayed by Greece in the semifinals of this year’s world championships in Japan, thus losing the opportunity once again to play for the gold medal.

How could this possibly happen?

It happened because Boris Stankovic, the former secretary general of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), was a visionary. When he initiated the push to have professionals permitted in the 1992 Olympics, Stankovic believed it was the only way that the rest of the world would catch up to the United States. Not only have they caught up, they’ve passed us.

The disturbing aspect of this recent loss to Greece is that we didn’t take them lightly. We trained our team longer than we have in the past. We picked the best coach for the job in Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. We made players try out and agree to a three-year commitment. Granted, our USA team did show great heart in its victory against Argentina for the bronze medal, but let’s face it, bronze is not good enough. So what now?

We have identified a good core of players with the right attitudes, so there is no reason to panic. What we need to do first is add some great shooters. We had a tough time hitting the open shot even with the shorter international 3-pointer. We also struggled from the free-throw line in critical situations. We need Kobe Bryant, Chauncey Billups and Ray Allen.

Next, we must improve our team defense. We are delusional if we think that outstanding individual defense will get us the gold. Greece absolutely destroyed us with the high pick-and-roll play because our players did a poor job of helping. Additionally, we need to get a better feel for the international game. Understanding when to defend the 3 and when to drop in on the penetration comes from experience.

We also need to establish a low-post game. For a player like Elton Brand to attempt only two shots likehe did against Greece is inexcusable. Our team needed to go inside when it is up by 12 with 6:39 to go in the second quarter. We didn’t and the game was lost at that point.

Can we win the gold in Beijing? We can if we learn from our loss and make the necessary changes. Fortunately, we have two years to get it right.

Former Warriors star Rick Barry is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. E-mail him at rbarry@examiner.com.

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