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Culture, not coach, to blame for downfall

8/19/2004

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.

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.''