Friday March 28th, 2008
“But that’s life.” The words are from Coach Hollins. Since the kids were told not to complain about their loss to Turkey, I will. Not because it’s necessarily the right thing to do, but because I was on the bench for the semifinals and feel for what these kids just experienced. I was just as upset (probably more so) after this loss than any USA World Cup game–and people that read this website know how much I love the beautiful game.
There’s really no other way around it: Team USA got jobbed. The call against Walker on what would have been a lead-taking 3 with seconds remaining was a charge—a push off, I guess. Hollins’ appropriate reaction was to kick a chair as gently as possible. It was one of those calls; if it hadn’t been made, nobody would have noticed or said anything. The referees shouldn’t blow that whistle because they’re making the game about them. I fully cop to writing with a bias (hell, I was on the bench, screaming my @$$ off, wearing the team shoes and t-shirt). Still, it was a stupid call.
Part of the frustration comes from watching Turks pulls some tricks on a comparatively unassuming, innocent American roster. This trickery put key players into foul trouble for most of the game. Brendan Lane, Team USA’s most talented frontcourt player, was, more or less, barred from playing tonight. Lane, who you want to pencil into the tall shooter mold until he grabs 5 rebounds in 7 minutes and you realize there’s a lot more to his game than you could simply stereotype, picked up two quick first half fouls. He knew he had to be careful in the second half. So he was. Didn’t matter.
On his fourth foul, the player he was guarding in the post just arm-hooked him. The fact that he was an innocent bystander seemed to be lost on the refs. When he came back to the bench, he looked like he had been violated. In a certain sense, he was. If I had whipped out a polygraph right then and there, and asked the question, “is there any chance you even came remotely close to fouling him?” Lane would have said “no,” and passed with flying colors.
Those calls and the way the ball bounces—two Walker 3’s that could have tied the game rimmed out, one was ¾’s of the way down—and fatigue from the previous day’s win loomed large in defeat.
Not that you’re going to get sympathy from army folks. Many felt that the team should have hit its physical peak right around last night. To which I say, sorry they’re 17-18 years old. The tank was half empty—a fear Hollins admitted he had after the game—because the tank was half empty.
The other side of the coin is that you can’t expect to win a tight game if you miss ten free throws (12-22) and fail to close out quarters successfully.
Even so, while there’s no crying in the Army, I’ll be damned if I don’t remember the following little story for the rest of my life:
After Australia and Greece went out to warm up for the second semi-final, I had to take a leak, so I went into the bathroom in the visiting locker room. Just as I was finishing up my business, my main man, Sinan, a German basketball trainer, got to a stall. Seconds later, as I was washing my hands, I turned back to Sinan.
“F*cking refs,” I said angrily. I turned to my left and looked out into the locker room. The refs were standing right there, five feet away, getting dressed.
I momentarily felt bad that they might have heard what I said. Then I heard one of them say to the other one, “I gave you one.” Not sure what that meant, but it reinforced the reality that I don’t care for them.
–Aside from the Americans struggling at the line and Turks bricking 12 out of 13 threes, the first half was amateur basketball played the right way. Could both teams have done a little better on D? Sure, but they were going back and forth and the game was hotly contested.
–I never thought I’d see the day when I saw a 6”8 Turkish kid whose go to move was a running left handed sky hook. Meet Deniz Kilicli. Even more ridiculous, Kilicli, who dropped 23 and 10 on the Americans, hit the first up and under lefty sky hook I’ve ever seen. Was it the first in basketball history? Doubt it, but still…
–Walker finished with 30, Releford 17 and Wright with 13.
Went to practice in the morning with the team. Helped the kids run through some drills and shot around with the team. Watched the coaches prep some drills and talked to Coach Hollins about Portland Trail Blazers practice fines from the late 70’s (Hollins said there was a 5-minute rule with leeway for being late, but after that the fines started piling up. Apparently, Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas stole the fine book once. Hollins also pointed out that the Bill Walton you see on TV isn’t necessarily the Bill Walton that you’d get in real life, which is good perspective).
I started shooting 3’s as the rest of the guys started getting changed and ready to leave. Wally Judge and others started chanting down “3-2-1” as I ran up to fire. The first shot missed. The second one went down. As I walked off smiling Judge noted out loud to everyone, “You were down 4!” Judge has that DC-Assault B-Easy humor on lock.
I would have gone to play spades with Judge, Walker and Wright but I had to interview some people for another story I’m working on.
—I hopped in the van to get a clearance pass to be able to leave the base and drink beer in Mannheim on Friday night. On the way, Jim and John—who hitched a ride to the store on the way—saw a dude about to get in this crazy-looking car he was driving. John asserted that he was indeed he was a black man; Joe didn’t believe him. “Man, he’s whiter than Stuttgart,” Jim said.
I bring this up because I want the phrase “whiter than Stuttgart” to be added the Slamonline lexicon. I’m just saying…
–Certain teams at this tournament should be ashamed of the way they smell. Good grief. Is there deodorant in Croatia, or was the lack thereof a defense mechanism? This is a legitimate question, not a joke.
–The German announcer has particular trouble with Cashmere Wright’s first name. He introduces him every game as what sounds like “Cash Mayor”, which sounds like either John Mayer’s accountant or Clarence Royce. Still, it’s not all that offensive.
I’d rather be deaf than blind.