Culture, not coach, to blame for downfall

Updated: August 19, 2004, 7:08 AM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Folks back in the United States are searching for an explanation to their basketball team's misfortunes.

An American from Dallas, working for Lithuania, has offered an answer.

There isn't a better teacher in basketball than Larry Brown. But you've got to have receptive students in order for a team to be effective. ... You can't just shuttle out gear, and have the best Nikes, and not be able to shoot a jump shot.
Lithuania assistant coach Donnie Nelson
Lithuania assistant coach Donnie Nelson sees the U.S. team's struggles as symptomatic of a breakdown that begins at the developmental level and is exacerbated by America's fascination with dunks, sneaker contracts and the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

"This team and this group of coaches shouldn't take the bullet for our lack of development,'' said Nelson, the general manager of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks. "Other countries ... have a lot less in the way of emphasis on the sport, the numbers of athletes that gravitate to the sport, money, educational periodicals and tapes.

"So there shouldn't be any reason that our guys are not capable of doing certain things,'' Nelson continued.

"We've been seeing this for a long time, and again, there isn't a better teacher in basketball than Larry Brown. But you've got to have receptive students in order for a team to be effective. ... You can't just shuttle out gear, and have the best Nikes, and not be able to shoot a jump shot.''

The American team shot just 7-for-45 from 3-point range in its first two games, ensuring the players will continue to see more tightly packed zone defenses until they prove themselves capable of beating an opponent daring them to shoot from outside.

Next up is a game Thursday against Australia and its veteran marksman Shane Heal, followed by opening-round games Saturday against Lithuania and Monday against Angola.

The United States is currently in a four-way tie for second place in Group A with Puerto Rico, Greece and Australia. Angola (0-2) is last.

Thursday's other games are Italy-Spain, Puerto Rico-Angola, Argentina-China, Greece-Lithuania and New Zealand against Serbia-Montenegro.

Despite his team's struggles, Brown said he will stick with what makes him comfortable -- the same starting lineup, same subs and same tactics.

"I'm not smart enough to change,'' Brown said with a smile Wednesday. "I don't have enough time. ... We've just got to play with the same energy we played with last night'' in a win against Greece.

That likely means that Richard Jefferson, who shot 0-for-7 against Greece and 3-for-16 against Puerto Rico, will remain the starting small forward. And LeBron James, whose defensive energy produced three breakaway dunks in the second quarter, will continue to come off the bench at shooting guard behind Allen Iverson.

Brown has never been one to make wholesale changes on the fly, and he's not about to start now -- even with observers wondering why he isn't making more use of full-court pressure or half-court traps that can cause turnovers and lead to open-court opportunities.

"Whatever he feels is the best thing to do to win, that's what we're going to do,'' said Stephon Marbury, who has played full-court man-to-man defense against opposing point guards but hasn't been all that disruptive.

Brown believes winning or losing will be determined by effort -- players diving on the floor for loose balls, boxing out underneath for defensive rebounds and making the extra pass to open up mid-range scoring opportunities.

The Americans have done those things at times, but never for a full game.

And if they don't get into the habit of playing with extra effort for a full 40 minutes, their chances of standing on the medal podium will dwindle fast.

"A lot of guys gave up their bodies to make plays last night. We played to win,'' Brown said following a brief practice at the American College of Greece. "When you see LeBron going on the floor and Timmy (Duncan) going on the floor ... that's why we ended up playing better.''


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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