In game of talent vs. team, take latter
By MIKE BIANCHI
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
ORLANDO, Fla. -- No need for you, me or any other proud American to feel guilty any longer.
For a while there, I thought I was being traitorous for rooting against the USA's Olympic basketball team, but now I find out that there are actually bona fide basketball experts taking pleasure in Team USA's pain. Correction: Not Team USA; Talent USA.
Doesn't matter who you talk to -- from NBA general managers to college coaches to youth-league organizers. Deep down, the purist in all of them is finding gratification from the struggles of our American Olympians.
Just listen to our panel of three experts.
John Weisbrod, general manager of the Orlando Magic: "There's a little part of me that felt validated when Puerto Rico beat our guys. It's a painful thing, but I think it's a helpful thing. Some of these teams don't have one-fiftieth of the talent we have, but they play team basketball. It goes to show what I've always believed: You can't just throw the maximum amount of talent out there and expect to win."
Billy Donovan, basketball coach of the University of Florida: "What the Pistons did to the Lakers in the NBA Finals is the same thing Puerto Rico did to the Americans. This shows that basketball is still a team game and that a true team can still beat pure talent. That's a good message."
Chris Marlette, president of the Winter Springs Youth Basketball League: "What I see more and more on the youth level are kids with terrible fundamentals. Kids mimic what they see on TV. It's become all about individuality. I love seeing some of these other countries show our guys how team basketball was meant to be played."
So go ahead and root against Talent USA if you want. That doesn't make you un-American; it actually makes you a true patriot.
Patriots want what's best for their country, and what's best for American basketball is for Talent USA to lose. A defeat for Talent USA is a victory for American basketball--a victory for moxie over marketing.
Certainly, Talent USA still could win the gold medal. The old red, white and overdue actually began to look a little like a team in Thursday's victory against Australia. But wouldn't losing the gold be more beneficial for the American ideal than winning it?
A poor showing in the Olympics could be the crucifixion of the U.S. basketball game as we know it. Talent USA will have sacrificed itself to cleanse American basketball of its sins and hopefully resurrect a game that is closer to what the creator (James Naismith) envisioned. I suppose we should stop this comparison right now or else we might end up with Allen Iverson as the Christ figure.
The point is this: Only a monumental flop by Talent USA will get the attention of the American basketball establishment. There's a reason more and more Europeans and fewer and fewer American collegians are being drafted into the NBA: Because the Europeans know how to shoot and defend. They know how to play. Our guys know how to slash and dunk.
The Europeans play as if John Wooden were coaching them; we play as if Seth Greenberg were coaching us.
"The marketing component in this country -- both in the NBA and in college -- has put so much focus on individual talent," Weisbrod said. "Getting drafted and earning a college scholarship has become more and more about athleticism and less and less about basketball IQ."
Let's hear it for fundamentals over flash and for the "we" way over the "me" way.
Who really cares if Talent USA comes home with a medal?
Wouldn't it be much more gratifying to cultivate an American team with some mettle?