Wednesday , Aug , 15 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

USA Basketball: Playing Like Losers

USA Basketball is no longer the premier hoops program in the world.
It hasn’t been for five years. And quite frankly, it’s getting kind of
old being the losers.


USA Basketball: Playing Like Losers

Yeah, that’s right, I said it. The players that comprise the Men’s US
National team are a bunch of losers, inasmuch that any of them who
have played on this team before have lost at least once in
international competition. And while that may not sound like much to
gripe over, there was a time when a loss for USA Basketball was a far
away thought, bouncing around ridiculously in some lunatic’s mind.
Now, however, the days of a blemish free US National team are a
forgone memory. The truth for American basketball fans is not simply
that our team loses, but our team loses often. We are, in fact,
losers.

It’s a reality that somehow manages to escape the collective
consciousness of our sports society today – USA Basketball hasn’t won
a major international competition since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Our one scarce first place finish was in the 2003 FIBA Americas
qualifier, a tournament in which we had to place at least top three to
qualify for the 2004 Olympics, thanks to a dreadful sixth place finish
in the 2002 FIBA World Championship. You can try and shake this all
you want, throw up any and all forms of apologetics and excuses, if
you please, but the simple indisputable fact is that USA Basketball
hasn’t been beating the teams we continue to claim superiority over.

I’ve been over this uncomplicated assessment of USA Basketball on
numerous occasions in the past, and for the sake of brevity I won’t
delve into it fully right now. Suffice to say, if you aren’t beating
teams, you aren’t better than them. Period. That is the most essential
backbone principle of all forms of competition. That’s not even sports
101, that’s the prerequisite to get into the class, if you can’t grasp
that concept you’re too stupid to even be in sports 101.

The Men’s USA Basketball team hasn’t won anything that matters in
seven years, with that established I’d like to explain why the usually
inconsequential FIBA Americas Tournament holds so much weight for this
program.

We need to win something, anything. Now. And while winning the
Americas just to qualify for the ’08 Olympics wouldn’t exactly be
cause for jubilant celebration, it might persuade certain Americans to
hold off the burial services. Granted, all we need is a top two finish
to qualify for the Olympics in 2008, but with that said, finishing
second (most likely behind either Argentina or Brazil) would still be
cause for concern.

And yes, I fully realize that in all likelihood the US will win the
Americas. Argentina is hampered by injuries and will be without some
of its best players. Brazil does boast an impressive roster including
NBA pros Leandro Barbosa, Nene Hilario, and recently drafted Tiago
Splitter, but they would place second at best, or so we hope. We
always think our team is going to win, but obviously that hasn’t been
happening much lately.

A failure this summer would be down right absurd. It’s the freaking
Americas tournament, no disrespect to any of the other teams
participating, but if the US doesn’t place first it would be a sign
that more disappointment is on the way in ’08. Truthfully, most
Americans would be happy if we just qualify for the Olympics this
summer, but then when the inevitable comes and Argentina rolls around
at full strength in Beijing, everyone will look shocked and start
asking how the US possibly could have lost. And after that we’d go
back to promptly declaring how much better we are than everyone else,
winless and stuck living a dream that died half a decade ago.

Whether the proud and blindly faithful US fans care to admit it or
not, USA Basketball needs to win the Americas tournament, not
simply to qualify for the big show in Beijing, but to begin to restore
the winning pedigree that established USA Basketball as the most
prestigious and dominant basketball team the world has ever seen.

Sure, everyone has their eyes set on the Olympics in ’08, but for the
US National team, winning can’t wait until everyone thinks it
‘matters’ – it always matters, it matters right now. When you have
repeatedly lost to teams with less talent and more heart, you have to
take anything and everything you can get in the win column, everything
matters.

Not only have other countries out played us, bested us in team play
and fundamentals, but they have thoroughly out worked us. It would be
a different story if we were losing on account of lacking talent,
other countries have gracefully accepted such a role for quite some
time when facing the US. But that isn’t why USA Basketball has fallen
to a second rate team.

Complacency, indifference, and lack of preparation have stifled
American basketball in international competition more than anything
else. Throw out your anti-FIBA rhetoric and your bitter complaints
about international officials (as if our refs are so much better),
even if goal tending and the trapezoid lane are moronic concoctions,
the last thing we need is to start making excuses for the fact that
the individuals we piece together fail to play as a cohesive unit time
and time again. You can’t pin that on anyone else.

Excuses, complaints about international rules or style, claims to
superior talent, none of that means anything if our guys don’t put it
down when shit hits the hardwood. Players and coaches need to adjust
in whatever ways necessary to achieve success. And most importantly,
USA Basketball needs to perform with the ferocity and desire of a one
time giant that wants to prove it’s still on top. We have already lost
our spot at the top of the basketball world, and it’s time we start
playing like we want it back.

If USA Basketball, and we as American fans, have become so absorbed in our own ego saturated need to be the best that we’ve failed to recognize that we’ve long since been beaten and replaced at the top, than we have fallen into one of the most disgusting and pathetic roles in sports – the sore loser, and worse yet the one who is in severe
denial.

If we can’t face our own inadequacies, then we aren’t merely losing,
we really are losers.