How To Make It As Americans, Vol. 2
Opening up against Croatia; practice strategy; sponsorship by Mercedes.
by Jake Appleman / @JakeAppleman
April 3, 2010
For all opening round games, we were slated to play in the 8 p.m. nightcap because it’s easier for the Americans who work on the Mannheim Army Base to finish work for the day and pack the gym. As such, near-capacity crowds and raucous, if brief, “U-S-A” chants from small pockets of fans become the norm. You’re in Germany, but it’s basically a home game.
What made day one’s pregame experience an aberration was that Team USA and Croatia had to sit and stand through most of the opening ceremonies and the pre-ceremony for the opening ceremonies before taking the court. You’d naturally think this is no big deal, but as the kids from all around the world jam-pack the lounge of a bowling alley listening to some guy they’ve never met tell them how great is to have them there–mind you, half the teams don’t even understand English or German–you can see the restlessness grow. It also doesn’t help to have local American girls from the army base there, holding country signs and pontificating out loud about what it’d be like to get gang-banged by some of the Brazilian players (no, really).
Credit then, to Team USA and Coach Krystkowiak for coming out ready to play against Croatia. Here’s how it went down:
–A few turnovers characterize the beginning of the game. The Americans are called for stepping out of bounds on back-to-back possessions.
–Chris Manhertz provided stability amidst the chaos with good work on the boards. He finished the half with 11 rebounds, many of them in heavy traffic.
–Royce Woolridge served as a good bailout option on the offensive end with his one-on-one prowess. Taking his man off the dribble for a short spinning fadeaway was particularly impressive.
–The second quarter was Damien Leonard’s coming out party. His long-range bombing was like a hot air balloon for the U.S. lead. Leonard finished 4-8 from distance for the half and his 12 points spurred a 24-point quarter.
–Farooq Muhammad played wisely, taking what the defense gave en route to a few nice forays to the tin and helping move the ball well.
–Croatia used a few deceptive back cuts and timely makes to stay in the game.
40-32 at the half.
At halftime Coach Krystkowiak talked about the Croats making the extra pass, burning the Americans for easy layups, and making a living in the paint. All true.
–The third quarter is about Kevin Ware. Ware hustled well in the first half, but couldn’t get any of his five shots to drop. After hitting a very tough leaner, he gets out in transition and gets to the line. And just like that, he’s all over the place; flying in for an offensive rebound; running the floor for an alley-oop layup finish; and hustling hard to save an errant pass from crossing the half court line.
–It would also be a tragedy not to mention Croatia’s Dario Saric, their lanky, herky jerky, porn-stachio’d talisman. He’s the Adam Morrison of the Balkans if Adam Morrison could rebound. Saric finished with 13 and 12, only outdone in the scoring column by Roko Rogic and Boris “Why always Boris?” Barac, whose war-torn mullets render them somewhat indistinguishable.
–Leonard’s dagger three towards the end of the quarter marked the first time the U.S. closed out a quarter well.
–The U.S. started the frame out poorly; an eight point lead was shaved to four rather quickly.
–A 9-0 Croatian run tied the game at 63, setting up a dramatic finish.
Croatia shot 10-29 from the line and 3-24 from three, yet they still found themselves alive, with a shot to win it, thanks to shooting 60 percent from the floor and a fourth quarter comeback that took advantage of some questionable officiating—Coach Krystkowiak got a technical for saying “that’s not right”—and poor U.S. shot selection.
Point guard Ryan Boatright, quiet most of the game, came alive in the frame, making a living off of dribble penetration. A key steal and layup pushed the lead to six, before Boatright’s struggles at the stripe gave Croatia the window they needed to close the gap and get one final opportunity.
It wasn’t to be, and Marshall Plumlee grabbed the final rebound, which led to ecstatic celebration. Plumlee’s energy conjures up thoughts of a Mark Madsen Michael Madsen hybrid on speed.
FROM THE DAY
–Helicopter refiller Sean Simpson picks me up at the Frankfurt Airport. He’s wearing all Duke gear, funny because I was supposed to be on the same flight with Marshall Plumlee, whose two older brothers, Mason and Miles, are set to play for Duke in the Final Four in a matter of hours. Simpson was also expecting Plumlee, but Marshall’s high school team didn’t play to form in a tournament, so he had to come on a later flight.
–Sean and I go out to a nice German bakery in Mannheim because the Army lodging center isn’t open yet. Everything in Germany is a Mercedes. The non-descript van he picks me up in is a Mercedes. The surprisingly healthy jelly donut that I ate might have been a Mercedes, too.
–Within an hour or so of meeting the team, it’s revealed that Scott Willard, assistant coach, is up for the job at our alma mater, Kenyon College, and assistant coach Francis Williams passes along a hello to SLAM’s Ryan Jones. You can have like ten contacts in the basketball world, and it can still be surreal.
At practice, Coach Krystkowiak looks for the wings to improve their footwork on flare screens during a drill that focuses on getting simultaneous looks for bigs and guards.
Coach K breaks them into two groups and they run their secondary break and the dummy sets that come out of said secondary break.
Willard reveals that they’re looking for pin downs and ball screens when they get out in transition. This makes sense; many of the bigs are undersized so they need to capitalize on immediate opportunities down low instead of waiting in the halfcourt; and ball screens aid speedy guards looking to make plays quickly.
Kyrstkowiak works on a play called Hammer, where the point guard, in this case Ryan Boatright, uses quick penetration—sometimes helped by a ball screen–to find either a big diving weakside for an alley-oop, or the 2 or 3 man spotting up on the opposite wing.
Having noticed some flaws in an overtime exhibition loss to Germany, Coach has the kids work on some zone busting. The improvement seems to be immediate. The use of an “Eagle pick,”–a screen to free up space for a ball handler on the wing– yields mostly positive results.
–At lunch a Kobe/LeBron Lakers/Cavs debate breaks out among the kids. It sounds exactly as you imagine it would.
Chris Manhertz: LeBron roar! Blah blah blah.
Mike Chandler: What? Are you serious? Kobe roar! Blah blah blah.
Ryan Boatright: Hell naw, LeBron roar! Blah blah blah.
And so on and so forth, until Dwyane Wade gargles sulfuric acid.
–Jake’s failtastic moment of the day. As Fabolous spits “ Fuck Ni**as dot com” repeatedly through a pair of Team USA headphones, I jokingly interject: “nice website.”
A few pictures from Day 1: