The 10 Things USA Basketball Needs To Recognize:
Now that it has gotten through to the next round almost unmarked, there are still some things Team USA needs to take heed to now that it's Won-or-Done time.
1. THE GIG IS UP
This is no longer a game. Before it gets to Saitama, Japan, for the final rounds of the World Championship, this USA team needs to recognize that, in the immortal words of the D.O.C., "this is serious bi'ness." The world came to play, they came to compete, some came to win, some came to embarrass the U.S. This is what the U.S. team needs to believe; this is the attitude it needs to take onto the court. It should approach every game from here on out with the mentality and mind-set that every team is trying to make a name at the expense of the U.S. and at the same time trying to embarrass it. The U.S. had better recognize that the days of being scared of "US" is over. It ended in 1996.
2. THERE IS ONLY ONE MJ
The Dream Team is dead. Been dead, not resurrecting. Therefore there is no need to try to emulate it or put any extra pressure on themselves to be this generation's version of what that team was. Winning the world championship is not going to save USA Basketball or change the way the world looks at the NBA, our players and the way we play. So the next time someone says to a U.S. player, "There's only one MJ," Chris Paul and his 34/6 assist-to-turnover ratio should step up and remind them: "You wrong, there were two MJs. The other's name was Magic Johnson. Know our history ..." punctuated by saying "punk" in the native language of the opponent.
3. "YOU BS AS A BAKER YOU GET A BUN, YOU BS HERE YOU'LL GET NONE"
Carmelo's comment after the Italia game said it all: "When you're used to beating teams by 20 or 25 points, we came in thinking we'd beat them by 25, too." That right there needs to freeze. Because that right there led the U.S. to playing the way it did, trailing Italy 45-36 at halftime. That right there almost lost the game. The days of winning games in blowouts every night out are done. The world has gotten better and the separation simply isn't what it used to be. Therefore, there is no room for BS-ing on the court once the ball is tossed. Coach Krzyzewski said it more diplomatically: "If we win and don't play at the level I want, I'll be disappointed. If we play at that level and someone plays at a higher level, I'll shake their hand." In real terminology: Stop the BS. That right there is all that needs to be said.
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4. TEAM USA NEEDS ADAM MORRISON
Love Kirk Hinrich, but he's not going to save you. Love Bron, but he's not going to save you. Love Melo, but he can't drop 35 every game and he can't trade 3s with the world. See, there's a difference between being able the shoot 3s and having range. Bird had range, Mullin had range, Miller (aka: Reggie) had range. The second any one of them stepped across halfcourt ... Yung Joc, it was goin' down. This team is void of long-range specialists. And when you are going up against teams that specialize in dropping bombs from beyond the 3-point line you have to counter their attack with something ... or someone. Adam Morrison was that someone. Even though he didn't have any international or NBA experience, he was 6-foot-8 with range. Silly range. Scorer's-table range. Oscar Schmidt range. And at some point, scoring two points for every three points that Spain, Greece, France, Turkey or Dirk is scoring is not going to add up. Oh, my bad, yes it will -- it'll add up to an L.
5. THERE IS A "P" in "D"
Defense, that's what he said. Coach K claimed this team was going to be different. That it was going to pride itself on defense. Well, so far, before Team USA held Senegal to 58, Puerto Rico put up 100, Slovenia 95, China 90 and Italia, in the closest margin of victory (nine points), posted 85. So when's the pride going to arrive? Not to sound like Hubie Brown, but giving up almost 93 ppg (not including Senegal) is not the type of defensive defiance one should take pride in. And since the U.S. can't play zone -- in like it tried it once and it can't play zone -- Squad U.S. needs to establish a defensive presence that displays a sense of pride not seen in international play since well, since the Russian mafia played D on us in 1972.
6. MELO IS THAT DUDE!
Face it K, you owe him one. In Sapporo he proved that. And although we know who the two "faces of USA Basketball" are, the coaching staff needs to realize the difference between who the best players are and who's playing the best ball. Melo saved the USA in the game against Italia. He wasn't hot, he was hungry. It's time. His. On the cover of Dime this month he's billed as "The People's Champ." After the U.S. leaves Japan he should be on the cover of SI labeled "World Champ." If Coach K is smarter than Larry Brown, he'll let the hot hand of the class of 2003 lead the way.
7. GINOBILI, NOCIONI AND HERRMANN
Three players can beat the USA. And these are the three. The Argentine triangle with Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni and Walter Herrmann is the most dangerous three in world basketball outside of King, Flash and 'Lo. (France's triple threat of Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Florent Pietrus is not the same with Parker out with a broker finger.) Unless the red, white and blue is ready for these three, unless it knows these three know they can beat the U.S. squad by themselves, the 40-minute game against Argentina will feel like 80 minutes but be over in 30.
8. IT'S GONNA TAKE 12 ANGRY MEN TO WIN THIS
But it's got to be controlled anger. The U.S. cannot let other teams or the FIBA refs expose them as uncool, uncalm and uncomposed under pressure. They cannot get "rattled" or "chippy" as the L7 announcers call it. Elbows, knees, bumps, getting pushed while in the air, hard fouls, cheap fouls, unnecessary fouls, no calls, foreign four-letter words, saliva, fists -- they need to kill opponents with smiles and 12-point runs, "nice tries" and 30-point leads. That chip on their shoulders (one that D-Wade almost let slip) needs to be shelved. They must remember Zidane. Whatever they do they can't go out like Zidane. Even if someone says something about their mamas.
9. KOBE IN 2008
Even though this "build a team concept" might be the answer for our international basketball sorrow, there's nothing bad that will happen in Tokyo that won't be rectified in Beijing in two years. Individuals might not make the difference, but they do make it happen. So even if the U.S. loses a game and doesn't win the Worlds, all know that in 2008 the fear factor returns without Joe Rogan. LeBron, D-Wade, Melo, Amare and ... Kobe. Even Wayne Gretzky's wife wouldn't bet against that squad.
10. PRAYER WORKS
When the shots aren't falling, when teams are scoring on the U.S. at will, refs are fouling out any player with three letters on his chest, they're turning the ball over every 48 seconds, getting beat on simple pick-and-rolls and backdoors every 50, they're being outrebounded on both ends of the court, heads are hanging low on the bench, towels hanging over them, ball movement is nonexistent, every play is an iso, it's too late for a wake-up call or gut check, Coach K is quiet, the score on the scoreboard looks wrong when all of this happens, when all else fails and all hope seems lost, remember that being selfish and praying for superficial needs like world dominance in basketball is totally understandable and necessary.
Only in America, though.Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He has a weekly segment on "Cold Pizza" and is a regular forum guest on "Rome Is Burning." He resides in Chicago. Sound off to Scoop and Page 2 here.