The problem is that so is every other team in the world competition.
SAITAMA, Japan (AP) -- All that talk of the United States returning to the top of the basketball world will have to wait.
The reality is that the Americans are no closer now than they were two years ago.
The U.S. players returned home Sunday from the world championships with bronze medals, just like the ones Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony won at the 2004 Olympics.
But the three captains also carried something else -- belief that progress has been made.
"We didn't accomplish what we wanted to," James said. "But we've gotten better and USA Basketball is growing, again, for the United States of America."
Getting better is what the rest of the world has done over the last 15 years. Mike Krzyzewski has witnessed it.
He led a team of U.S. college kids to a bronze in the 1990 worlds, losing to a powerful Yugoslavia team that featured future NBA stars Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic.
Pro stars and lost
This time, Krzyzewski had NBA stars. And his team lost in the semifinals to a Greek squad that had nobody in the league last season -- and still played nearly flawless basketball for the final three quarters.
"No one is going to win these games and the Olympics every time from now on," Krzyzewski said. "There's just too many good players. Our guys now know what they're up against and hopefully our country realizes the commitment needed to play this kind of basketball."
The U.S. finally made that commitment this year, implementing a national team program featuring nearly 25 players who agreed to take part for three years.
And count on the Americans dipping into that pool to pick a stronger team for the 2008 Olympics. Injuries and personal reasons prevented them from bringing all the players Krzyzewski needed.
Waiting in the wings
Chauncey Billups might have been useful to defend Greece's big guards, but his wife was pregnant and he stayed home. Michael Redd would have been perfect in the quarterfinals when Germany sat back in a zone and watched the Americans misfire on 30 of 40 3-point attempts, but he was getting married.
Without knee injuries, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire would probably have been here instead of Brad Miller and Antawn Jamison, who played sparingly. A knee injury also sidelined Kobe Bryant, but it's likely he'll be wearing red, white and blue at some point.
"There are 12 guys on the national team, and every summer there's going to be competition for those spots," center Chris Bosh said. "I think that makes the team better if we compete a little bit more, and I think we definitely need to do that and continue to push each other and I think everybody will be that much better."