U.S. ‘B-team’ silences doubters, takes gold in World Championship
The United States took down Turkey in the Gold Medal game on Sunday, Sept. 12, becoming the first U.S. team to take home gold at the FIBA World Championship since 1994 and earning an automatic bid for the 2012 Olympics in London.
But this tournament meant more than just proving that the U.S. is back on top when it comes to basketball.
This tournament was about changing perceptions and showing the world a deeper level of respect — by beating the living daylights out of them. Make no mistake, this tournament did not in any way resemble the 1992 Dream Team’s dismantling of the world other than the end result, but the U.S. did not take any opponent lightly as it had in years past. Due to that newfound respect for international competition, the Americans were only tested once, by Brazil.
Team USA emerged from group play with a 5-0 record and then beat Angola, Russia, and Lithuania before eliminating a tough Turkey team 81-64.
It wasn’t a cakewalk, as this “B-team” had to overcome shortages of talent, experience, and size along the way.
But this collection of players played hard, checked their egos, and represented the U.S. with dignity and honor. There were no divas on this team. There was no whining about playing time from players like Danny Granger or Kevin Love, who had been relegated to mostly mop-up duty. Each player accepted his role and did so for the betterment of the team, and in that respect, this team most closely resembles the Dream Team.
This team may have been the least talented squad put forth by the U.S. since the 1998 World Championship team, but it was the players’ willingness to embrace the team concept that makes them one of the most endearing.
This was the little team that could. Those who believed that Team USA would be hurt by the fact that none of the 2008 Olympic Team players chose to participate saw early on that this collection of players would not be a bust.
Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom provided veteran leadership and big-game experience. Derrick Rose, Rudy Gay and Russell Westbrook provided speed and quickness that the rest of the world just couldn’t match. Eric Gordon and Stephen Curry provided solid shooting. Tyson Chandler and Love were big bodies who vacuumed in rebounds in limited time. Andre Iguodala filled the role of defensive stopper.
And then there was Kevin Durant, who was named MVP of the tournament after averaging 22.8 points per game. He was given the task of being Team USA’s go-to scorer, and he did not disappoint, dropping 38 points on Lithuania and 28 points on Turkey as he became Team USA‘s all-time leading scorer in the tournament.
This was Durant’s coming-out party after his Oklahoma City Thunder team presented a surprising challenge to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 NBA Playoffs. His ascension to the upper pantheon of NBA players seems imminent, and his stock has never been higher after his showing in Turkey. He is already the early favorite for the 2011 MVP award, and Iguodala said earlier in the tournament that before his career is over, Durant will surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
Maybe so, but for now, Durant and the rest of this 2010 gold medal-winning U.S. team can bask in the glory that comes from shining on one of the world’s biggest stages. They have brought the Naismith Trophy back to America and helped restore the image of U.S. basketball in the process.
The Olympics take place in two years, and based on how well this team performed, Coach Mike Krzyzewski will have plenty of difficult decisions ahead when it comes time for tryouts.
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