Brown expects Team USA to play "the right way"

Updated: August 7, 2003, 11:56 PM ET

By Chris Bernucca SportsTicker Pro Basketball Editor

JERSEY CITY, New Jersey - At every stop during his itinerant and successful coaching career, Larry Brown has implored his players to play "the right way."

Now at the helm of the best group of players he has ever coached, Brown will do the same. It just won't be as loud as it has been in the past.

For Brown, the coach of the Detroit Pistons and the United States team headed to Puerto Rico for the FIBA Tournament of the Americas with the goal of earning an Olympic berth, there are some simple tenets that constitute playing "the right way."

You share the ball on offense and try to get the best shot. You take personal responsibility for defense and help wherever you can. You play hard - but fair - all the time.

Brown shouldn't have to spend any of his time at Roberto Clemente Coliseum wringing his hands, pulling on his earlobes or pinching the bridge of his nose. Those are all things he does when his team is not playing "the right way."

With superstars such as Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady and Jason Kidd at his disposal and three berths available, you would think Brown should be more concerned with playing time for his roster of future Hall of Famers. But during a teleconference Thursday, he referred to playing "the right way" five times.

"We can't just send any team over there," Brown said. "If we send an All-Star team to the qualifier or to the Olympics, we're not going to be successful. We have to really send a team over there, a group of guys that play the right way and understand that the competition is going to be very tough. We have to prepare in order to be successful."

Going into last summer's World Championships, the United States never had lost in international competition using NBA players. With the tournament in the friendly confines of Indianapolis, it was easy for American players and fans to be overconfident.

What transpired was the biggest slap in the face ever given American hoops. A team clearly not comprised of the NBA's best played selfish basketball and lost three times, finishing an embarrassing sixth and forcing USA Basketball to re-evaluate its entire approach.

Brown, who also has been an Olympian as a player and assistant coach, pointed out that last year's Team USA squad had some injuries. It was a nice gesture to partially protect the reputations of players on that team.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was an assistant on that team and is serving in the same role this year. In meetings with Brown over the last two days, he has told him that what happened last summer was no accident.

"The one thing Pop keeps strumming in my head over and over again is that he has unbelievable respect for the way these other teams play," Brown said. "He didn't think it was entirely a fluke, what went on in Indianapolis, with the injuries we had and the fact that these teams play so much together and are truly teams. They take this so seriously."

While NBA players are dismissive toward the international game, nations such as Yugoslavia and Argentina form teams designed to win events like the World Championships and the Olympics.

It has been more than a decade since the original "Dream Team" trampled the rest of the world at the 1992 Olympics, and those countries have been closing the gap ever since. Last year, they caught up.

"The big thing it made me realize is that basketball is better all over the world," Brown said. "These other countries take these international competitions a lot more seriously than we ever really realized."

It took some shame and embarrassment, but USA Basketball is now taking a similar approach. Among the top nine players on this year's squad, Sacramento Kings guard Mike Bibby is the only player without multiple All-Star appearances.

However, Brown doesn't believe that a team stacked with stars can play "the right way."

"We cant just send any team over there," he said. "We can't just pick a group of great players and expect them to come back with a gold medal every time now."

To that end, USA Basketball has given Brown a group of players who play "the right way." Even Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson, a three-time scoring champion who can be remarkably selfish at times, played for Brown for six years, winning an MVP and helping reach the NBA Finals two years ago.

"He is unique how hard he competes and playing hurt and stuff like that," Brown said. "I've been around Jason and Tracy, (Karl) Malone, Tim Duncan and people like that, I think there's a feeling with this group that what went on in Indianapolis is not going to happen again."

Brown gets his first look at this group Sunday, which begins 10 days of practice and preparation. There is an exhibition game against Puerto Rico on August 15 in New York, which Brown believes will help his team get acclimated to international rules.

The 10-team tournament includes Argentina, which stunned the Americans last summer, and Puerto Rico, which will benefit from being the host and is coming off a victory over U.S. college players for the bronze medal at the Pan Am Games.

However, Brown's greatest concern is ... well, you know.

"I'm just hopeful that we won't disappoint people and we'll understand that when the competition is a lot better, we've got to play the right way if we're going to be successful," he said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index