U.S. men rebound to win medal

The Americans defeated Lithuania 104-96 for the bronze medal.
ATHENS -- Postmortem began before the United States men's basketball team breathed its last gasp in these Olympics on Saturday night.
The nagging question -- what happened? -- was being posed even as the Team USA, to its credit, rebounded from Friday's semifinal loss to Argentina by outgunning Lithuania, 104-96, in the bronze medal game at Olympic Indoor Hall.
Actually, it's been eating at USA Basketball officials since the team opened Olympic play with a 19-point loss to Puerto Rico two weeks ago. And with their gold medal chances gone, it weighed heavily on the minds of players and coaches all day Saturday.
"This probably was the hardest game I've ever been involved in as a coach," Larry Brown said. "And I think my players probably would say the same thing.
"To come back after that loss with the expectations people have for us, this game to me was a very good thing for American basketball. These guys showed a lot of class and a lot of character."
Hot-shooting opponent
The Americans certainly had to play inspired basketball to beat a Lithuanian team that was 21-of-37 from 3-point range.
Lithuania, which handed the U.S. one of its three defeats in these Olympics, seemed poised to shut the United States out of a medal -- something that has never happened in America's 15 Olympic basketball appearances.
"We're professionals at the highest level," guard Richard Jefferson said.
"And even though we didn't win the gold, and people want to talk a lot of crap about us, we gave our all every single game."
Praises players
Brown praised his players Saturday and suggested that fans and media should appreciate -- not condemn -- the fact that they came to Athens, while at least 14 other NBA players pulled out or declined invitations.
"It's not about who didn't come," NBA commissioner David Stern said. "You take your team to the gym, and you play with who you've got, and you either win or you lose."
After the bronze-medal victory, Brown declined to offer specific ideas for how to improve the selection process. But he did say that he hopes there will be a day when NBA and international FIBA rules are standardized, so that everyone in the world plays by the same rules.
Stu Jackson, the NBA senior vice president of operations who chairs the 10-member USA Basketball Senior National Team Committee, said Saturday that he believes that rules eventually will be standardized, but said it wasn't a major problem in these Games.
Need more training time
Stern, Jackson and Brown agree that Team USA would have fared better in Athens with more training time. They say USA Basketball must find a solution to that problem, if not before the 2006 World Championships, then certainly before the 2008 Olympics.
"The training period that we have is not now sufficient enough to come into international competition and outright win -- the way that the Dream Team did or the team in '96 did," Jackson said. "Those days are gone."
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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