Aug. 15, 2004
Are you totally shocked Puerto Rico beat Team USA 92-73 in the preliminary round of the Olympics on Sunday? When you consider that the American squad dominated Puerto Rico in an exhibition game before the Olympics, yes, it was a surprise.
But was this a shock? Not when you consider what happened to the United States during the pre-Olympic exhibitions. There was the so-called wake-up call blowout loss against Italy, along with a close call against a German squad led by Dirk Nowitzki.
Coach Larry Brown said over and over again he was concerned his players had not learned how to be a team yet. That was obvious Sunday in the first loss ever for a U.S. Olympic team that featured NBA players (and just the third Olympic loss overall).
By the way, have you seen the movie "Miracle" yet? It's a great film about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team beating the heavily favored Russians en route to a gold medal at Lake Placid, N.Y. Mike Eruzione and Co. got the gold. Coach Herb Brooks made his own decisions on players, and that upset an advisory board.
You can't take a group of NBA standouts and expect them to gel as a unit in such a short time.
Brooks took the players that would best play together as a team -- not necessarily the most talented individuals. The fact is, you can pick an all-star lineup, but they aren't always going to act as a team.
That is what we are learning now. You can't take a group of NBA standouts and expect them to gel as a unit in such a short time. The pros have to go through the rigors of an 82-game regular season and then the grueling playoffs before coming together in June or July to form an Olympic squad.
Going against the créme de la créme from the world is difficult because other countries have raised their level of play and have also been together as a unit for a much longer period of time. That chemistry and unity is a factor.
Basketball is all about understanding roles and not about taking guys who are all No. 1 options on their respective teams and throwing them together. They can't adjust to a different situation with just a few weeks playing as a group.
We have to face reality, and it's as tough to handle as the biggest loss by the pros playing in the Olympics. Basketball has been a sport where we have dominated. Back in 1988, we sent a bunch of college kids and lost a close game to the Russians in the semifinals.
I can hear some excuses: No Shaq, Kobe, Kevin Garnett or Tracy McGrady. The bottom line is Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Stephon Marbury, Richard Jefferson, Lamar Odom, Carmelo Anthony, Shawn Marion and Co. are not Cupcake City.
It is a matter of blending as a unit. If a masterful teacher and motivator like Larry Brown is having a tough time, think about how difficult it is.
Now the United States must regroup. I said last week on ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike" show that the outside shooting could be an Achilles heel, and indeed it was as the team went 3-of-24 from long range (the international distance of 20 feet, 6 inches). Our perimeter shooting must be better because opponents will pack in the zone. The 22 turnovers also hurt.
If the jumper isn't going down, this could be a rough tournament. Now the Americans must bounce back against the home country, Greece, and you know they will be fired up with the crowd backing them. The Greeks have momentum after an impressive win over Australia in their opener.
But something tells me Brown and Co. will bounce back. This was just one loss, and there is time to make up for it in the tournament. The red, white and blue will respond in a positive way in the next game.
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979 (he's been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.