When my editor asked me to write a column about the 2010 FIBA World Basketball Championships in Turkey, I was thrilled. I love basketball, and while my knowledge of international basketball is not as extensive as my knowledge of the NBA, I figured this would be an easy analysis to conduct.
Step 1: Watch the games, which I had already been doing. Step 2: Find faults in the international version of the sport. Step 3: Churn out 600 or so words of how I think the NBA is vastly superior. Step 4: Pat myself on the back for supporting America and a job well done.
That is not how things went.
To be honest, when I heard the final American team roster announced by head coach Mike Krzyzewski, I was worried this would be another 2006 disaster, where the Americans fell flat at the World Championships. This 2010 team is much different than that 2006 team in that there are no stars, except for Kevin Durant, who is still learning how to impose his will as a player. However, the teams are very similar in that they were built with speed and ball movement in mind. But if a star-studded team like the 2006 squad could not win the championship, then how was this no-name, powerless group of youngsters supposed to strike fear into the hearts of the Spaniards, Greeks and Argentineans, alike?
Nonetheless, I sat down and gave them a shot; after all it is still basketball. I watched “America’s B team,” as they have been critically dubbed, trample over France in an exhibition match. They then squeaked out a victory against Spain in the days before the start of the tournament, and once the actual tournament started and the exhibitions were over, this “B team” was no joke. They exhibited all the qualities needed in international basketball. They are long, young, gritty, coachable and most importantly, egoless.
International teams have gone through a transformation in the past decade. They are no longer the talentless squads of the ’80s and ’90s. They are bigger, stronger and smarter than they used to be, and many international players play in the NBA as their team’s star.
This American team, on the other hand, is composed of players who have never played internationally. They are led by the youngest scoring champion in the NBA, Durant, a player who instead of talking off the court, says everything he needs to with his post-game stat line. And though I am ashamed to admit that I wanted them to prove themselves to me, someone who should have supported them in first place, they have.
They opened group play as the alpha males of Group B, a fitting group for the “B team,” huh? They beat Croatia and Slovenia by a combined 50 points. America’s speed and talent were mesmerizing to watch. This team of role players in the NBA was getting a chance to showcase their hype. Stephen Curry has made a series of wrap-around passes that had defenses falling over. Derrick Rose, a seemingly small point guard, has pushed and shoved his way into the paint to make impossible layups. Even little Eric Gordon of the lowly Los Angeles Clippers has emerged as powerful piece in the American puzzle. And of course, Kevin Durant is just being Kevin Durant. He leads the Americans, averaging 21 points per game.
When things got difficult during Monday’s game against Brazil, and the Americans were down at half time and had to scratch their way back to a two-point victory, they looked poised. Sure, they missed shots and botch rebounds, but the beauty of this team is that they have not given up.
Despite all the negative attention American writers are giving them for being the junior varsity to 2008’s varsity squad, despite the lack of experience and size and despite their glaring defensive weaknesses, this American team has been the most fun to watch in the last decade.
Do I think they will win all their games? Probably not. Do they have the potential to do so? Absolutely. The streak can certainly continue when USA faces Iran today, and then Tunisia tomorrow. Once things get to the knockout stages, America’s grit will be put to the test against the Spanish and Argentines, but until then, one can not help but be excited for this team.
As international teams become more difficult to shake, a gold medal at this tournament would be a testament to the dominance of American basketball, as well as their ability to change with the world. This is a team that deserves its attention. This is a team that puts basketball ahead of egos and a team that will stop at nothing to prove that they are the ultimate “A-team:” America’s team.