Home > Sports > What in the name of Naismith? Fixing USA basketball

What in the name of Naismith? Fixing USA basketball

Well, the NCAA tourney is over. The NBA is in that long stretch of meaningless games that blend into the same highlight reel on SportsCenter (first team gets out to a big lead — dunk, dunk, 3-pointer — second team comes back — block, 3-pointer, 3-pointer — first team puts the game away — dunk, dunk, scrub shooting a 3 — ad infinitum).

So, the basketball lobe of my brain drifts to odd places. Such as “Isn’t it cool that Hakeem Olajuwon’s daughter was in the McDonald’s All-American game this year?” Or, “Will an NBA team draft UNC’s David Noel just for the sheer dunking ability?” And, more importantly, “How the hell are we going to fix USA Basketball so we don’t keep getting our asses handed to us by Brazil, Argentina, Lituania and other countries smaller than Kansas.”

The plight of USA Basketball is actually a hot topic in the media from time to time. Unfortunately, the outrage only occurs after we lose one or two (maybe three) games in the Olympics or the World Basketball Championships. We were SIXTH in the 2002 Championships and “rebounded” to a bronze in the 2004 Summer Games. I choose to let loose some outrage when nobody’s paying attention. Makes me a visionary. Or the village idiot, barking at the moon.

Let’s take a step back. The latest “solution” for USA Basketball was to hire Mike Krzyzewski as the team’s coach. He’s a genius, so goes the thinking, and he will be able to get the NBA players to win the gold. Although that’s highly debatable. He’s a college coach, accustomed to coaching highly-motivated, over-emotional Dookies. “Coach K? Meet Lebron, who’s been a multimillionaire since the age of 18 and doesn’t consider an Olympic gold to be one of his lifetime goals. And K? Those other guys in the corner of the gym can’t hit an open jumper, but they can sure sell some shoes.” Yeah, this will work great.

[By the way, why the hell isn’t Phil Jackson the coach? He’s the only one who could get all the egos to play together. Does this make too much sense?]

Anyway, after watching the last few attempts by USA Basketball, I think we all know what the problem is. NBA athletes are either too tired, unmotivated or ill-prepared for international competition. Some guys really show up ready to play, but others can’t or won’t give it their best.

Case in point: look at what playing in 2004 did to Tim Duncan. He’s still hobbling around like Weezy Jefferson after carrying the flag for his country. And while other countries have 4-5 guys in the NBA who play on the Olympic team, we rely on all 12. Other countries spend weeks together to build a team. We spend a couple of hours, essentially. We all know it’s just not working.

See, the Dream Team of 1992 really got us off on the wrong foot. They breezed through the Barcelona games without breaking a sweat. The international basketball scene has shifted since then and other countries have caught on. The time to believe that an NBA All-Star team will rout any other country’s best is gone. Desparate times call for desparate measures.

I’m going to through out three sure-fire ways to elevate the status of USA Basketball. Let’s get one of these in action – and take back the sport we started.

1) Start a permanent USA “National Team” composed of fringe NBA players. This sounds weird at first. How can a bunch of NBA benchwarmers do what superstars can’t? Simple. We build a TEAM. Assemble a bunch of guys who don’t play much in the NBA but are perfectly suited for the international game (dead-eye shooters, agile big men who can pass, lockdown defenders on the wing). Then, you let them play international tournaments for 8-9 months a year. We pay them $1 milllion a year for this priviledge — bear in mind, a one-year veteran in the NBA who’s a scrub will typically earn the league minimum of $620,046. We’re out $12 million for a team who’s hungry, proud to serve, and focused. Tell me this wouldn’t work.

I contend that in a year or so, the team will be so cohesive that they will be able to win on the biggest stages. For Coach K, this would be the the best option, since he’s better at molding a team than managing egos. Of course, once they elevate their skills, the NBA may come calling and offer them more money. OK, one player leaves, and another wannabe joins. Continuity, continuity, continuity.

2) Let the NCAA champion take a run at the gold. This appeals to the supposed amateur ideal of the sport. Plus, it would be a unique incentive to NCAA tourney winners. Win the “Big Dance” in an Olympic or World Championship year, and you get several weeks of extra practice and high-profile game experience that your rivals aren’t getting.

Imagine giving the reins of USA Basketball to Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators right now. Give them another month to practice before the Championships, maybe play a few exhibitions to get used to international rules. By the time the World Basketball Championships start, I like my chances with Joakim Noah and the crew. Plus, Donovan has all that extra time to work with his kids without the NCAA jumping down his throat. It would at least be worth the old college try (har!).

You might ask, “What happens when players graduate or go pro early?” Well, the coach can call in the best and brightest from other schools to round out the team. If Noah goes early, Donovan calls Tyler Hansbrough. If a few average seniors graduate, you add the best undergraduate collegiate players you can find. See, another simple solution. I’m on a roll!

This idea might be a bit of a stretch, since we’d be sending a group of 18-22 year olds to take on hardened professionals from around the road. OK, I can’t really come up with a counter to that, other than the NCAA championship team will be a much more compelling “story” for the media and the fans. Due to the overwhelming popularity of March Madness, all of America would be familiar with Team USA. And given the extra time and practice (and a few talent upgrades here and there), I think it could only help.

3) Dammit, let’s just send the Harlem Globetrotters. This is easy. They’re Americans. They can play some great straight-up ball. They already have the red, white and blue uniforms. They’re used to playing under international rules. And if they start routing the poor representative from Asia-Pacific, they can break out the routines. “Wow, they just covered the Ukranian timekeeper in confetti! Classic!”

Anyway, those are my thoughts. I can save our national sport, if people would hear me out. But somehow, after all of the crap that I’ve said about Rat-face over the years, I don’t think Coach K is going to take my calls.

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