USA Basketball Relegated to Australia, 2nd Consecutive Loss


Grant Hill, who won the 1992 NCAA championship with Duke, joined a team of college players in La Jolla, California, to tackle the first Dream Team in preparation for the Barcelona Games.

Most wide-eyed college students thought of themselves as sacrificial lambs, only excited to share a basketball court with the likes of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan.

Instead, the college team made up of Hill, Allan Houston, Glenn Robinson, and others completely outdid the NBA stars.

Still in the early days of unification, the Dream Team ignored the defeat, beating the colleges the next day and pushing the competition at the Olympics.

The United States men’s basketball team has a little more to shrug this week. The Americans set their best game on the ramp leading to the Tokyo Games, beating Argentina 108-80 in Las Vegas on Tuesday night.

But the USA opened with surprising losses. Nigeria on Saturday and Australia on Monday doubled the team’s exhibition losses since 1992, when NBA players were first allowed to compete in the Olympics.

Hill, who won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, is set to replace Jerry Colangelo as the men’s national team general manager after the Tokyo Olympics. He watched the exhibition games in Las Vegas and hopes the team will be able to respond the way the 1992 team did when the games started to count.

Full of scorers but short in stature, the USA only worked for four days before starting the exhibitions. After the loss to Australia, coach Gregg Popovich said, “After being together for a short time, there is a lot of work to be done.”

Reinforcements are on their way from Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton from Milwaukee and Devin Booker from Phoenix. NBA finals, which the Suns take two games to one.

The first exhibits reflect a gap that may have closed between the US and other countries. Just five years ago, the Americans beat Serbia 96-66 in the gold medal match in Rio de Janeiro.

These Olympics will likely be more competitive. Countries like Nigeria, which is coached by former NBA head coach and current Golden State Warriors assistant Mike Brown, employ more than one NBA player. Nigeria defeated the USA 90-87.

The mystery of the American team evaporated as the game went global. Members of other national teams are familiar with playing against NBA competition.

“Don’t disrespect them, they’re a great team,” said Australian Joe Ingles, a member of the Utah Jazz. “Obviously it’s always nice to see the guys on their roster and Pop standing there, but we came here hoping to win the game and that’s what we did.”

On Tuesday, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal each scored 17 points in an end-to-end victory over Argentina. The result was a throwback from previous games where the Americans were late to the games but were unable to close Nigeria or Australia.

“We’re not going to be content with just coming here and rolling the ball and beating these teams,” Damian Lillard told reporters following Australia’s loss. “We have to play right, we have to compete and we have to come here to win and do everything to give ourselves the best chance to win. If we don’t, we might lose.”

So much has been clarified. Bam Adebayo and Kevin Love are the only traditional indoor players in the roster and the team was stronger in the first two shows. Popovich said the players are still working on conditioning.

“And when that happens, you get a bit of a mental blow as well,” he said of the Australian exhibition. We didn’t protect the boards the same way, the defense wasn’t the same, our pace wasn’t the same, so we have some guys who need to get their legs and rhythm back, but overall we need more. conditioning, that’s perfectly understandable.”

The United States women’s team will play against Australia on Friday after facing the WNBA All-Stars on Wednesday. Yet US women remain a heavy favorite to win at the Games where they will seek their seventh consecutive gold medal.

Despite the losses, the men’s team has a good chance of success, something Nigeria and Australia realized: Neither celebrated their victory particularly enthusiastically.

The United States has still won 15 of the 19 Olympic gold medals awarded in men’s basketball, including six out of seven during the Dream Team era, and still in the sportsbooks, the Americans remain the heavy favorites for the Tokyo gold. The group stage at the Olympics, which kicks off on July 25, should be less challenging: the United States is scheduled to play against France (with Rudy Gobert from Jazz), the Czech Republic and Iran. Second place, maybe even third place, should be enough to qualify for the quarterfinals.

But then, the Americans will face three straight knockout matches, and losing any of them will cost them gold. Their opponents may again be Australia or Nigeria, but they can also face deeper teams like Argentina and Spain.

How the team performs in Tokyo may affect how Hill approaches the position when his tenure begins.

Shortly after the United States’ disappointing bronze finish at the 2004 Athens Games, Colangelo dismissed the selection committee and overhauled the team’s structure. He sought commitments from players for two or three consecutive summers to ensure continuity on the road to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade have pledged to re-establish the United States on a global stage. Since the United States won gold medals in 2012 and 2016, this mindset was maintained over the next few Olympic cycles.

Momentum mostly fades towards Tokyo.

The team finished seventh overall and lost to France in the quarter-finals of the 2019 FIBA ​​World Cup. Durant and Draymond Green are the remnants of the 2016 Olympics.

Many NBA stars, including Jimmy Butler, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, are not participating after the rapid turnaround between NBA seasons during the coronavirus pandemic.

The United States roster includes fewer All-NBA first team members (zero) than Slovenia (Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic).

Hill knows that an exhibition stumble (or two) can be all it takes to kickstart a talented team.

His legacy may involve renewing the long-term commitments of the NBA’s brightest players.

But in a global game, the game’s biggest stars aren’t just Americans anymore.

Victor Mather contributing reporting.


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