U.S. basketball prowess deflating

My, how the mighty have fallen.

Only one day after the U.S. basketball team’s shocking seven-point loss to Argentina, they found themselves in the unusual position of trying to rebound.

Instead of bouncing back against Yugoslavia in the quarterfinals of the World Championships, the USA lost again, eliminating itself from medal contention.

This is the first U.S. team to lose in international competition and to finish without a gold medal while using NBA players.

You had to see this one coming. The U.S. team struggled throughout most of the tournament. It had double-digit deficits in three games, which is unheard of for an American team. The United States came into this tournament undefeated (53-0) when using NBA players, which started with the 1992 Dream Team. Since then, Team USA has put together seven teams. This current version of the Dream Team had won its first five games before losing to Argentina 87-80, in a game that was much worse than the score indicates. The U.S. team never held a lead the entire game, and had to make up deficits as big as 20 points. Against Yugoslavia, the USA had a 10-point lead in the final quarter, but lost it and eventually the game.

Many critics say that a U.S. loss in international competition was bound to happen. The feeling for the past few years has been that basketball in the United States is suffering from underdevelopment. Players aren’t learning the fundamentals, and overseas players are beginning to develop a better game. This may be evident by May’s NBA Draft. One-quarter of the first 16 picks were players from outside the United States. With the steady influx of overseas players into the league, it seems as if the rest of the world is catching up to the United States.

Not so fast. To search for the reasons for the losses, you don’t have to look at the opposing rosters. In fact, you don’t have to look any further than Team USA’s roster. Not one on the roster made the first two All-NBA teams this past season, and only Jermaine O’Neal, Paul Pierce, and Ben Wallace made the third team. While this version of the U.S. team had some good players, they were just that- good. This is not the best the United States or the NBA has to offer. It is important for people not to lose sight of that.

When asked if the top stars of the NBA would have suffered the same feat as the present U.S. team, head coach George Karl said, “I think someday the world will beat our best.”

Karl might have said that to be polite, or maybe he did actually believe it. Take nothing away from what those two teams accomplished, but we have to remain realistic. The rest of the world is still a long way from being able to compete with the best from the U.S. The gap may be narrowing somewhat, but Argentina and Yugoslavia, or any other country for that matter, have no shot at beating or even contending with the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson. NBA players can’t even contend with them (which might not say as much as it used to).

After last Wednesday’s loss to Argentina, Pierce said he was “embarrassed to be on the team that took the first loss.” No doubt he should be. But perhaps this sparks a fire in some of the top stars of the NBA, the ones who usually blow off invitations to be on the American teams during international competition. Just like the pride of the players on the U.S. roster has been compromised, so should the pride of the players who declined to compete. The dream is over. It’s time for U.S. basketball players to wake up and realize that international competition can’t be taken lightly anymore, or the future will be full of more nightmares.

– Kevin Fair, 19, is a sophomore newspaper journalism student from Fort Lauderdale. He is one of The Famuan’s assistant sports editors. He can be reached at thefamuansports@hotmail.com.