Friday, September 17th, 2010 at 12:00 pm  |  14 responses

Where’s The Love?

Team USA’s mark to gold was impressive.

by Quinn Peterson

Typically, the summer sport’s world is dominated by baseball, pre-season football talk, and major tennis and golf outings, leaving hoopheads longing for something to watch. But this year (with the help of Nike and the ESPN family of networks), we were given the opportunity to see something great.

The Game in one of its purest forms. Guys playing not for the money, but for pride, driven by their passion for the game.

But as Team USA prepared for the FIBA World Championships, the hate was about as heavy as Shawn Kemp. The “B Team,” some called them. Granted, these weren’t the creamiest of the crop, but the “B Team”? Really?

Personally, watching them win left me a proud American, telling myself, “I Love This Game.” Seeing them play since early August, we were able to witness the entire ride. We got to watch them grow up and come together as a team, the final game being the fulfilling culmination of it all.

When they lost in ’02 (which was made up of “second-tier” guys just like the current team) and ’06, Americans were disgraced. Astonished. Ready to banish George Karl, Paul Pierce and the like from the country, forget the League. But the team that finally righted the ship, bringing home World Championship gold for the first time since 1994, hasn’t been met with the same enthusiasm.

Given all the hate, I think it’s time to show some love:

1. First and foremost, shout out to Kevin Durant. From day one, it was clear: He had to be the guy. Coach K had to ask him to be more selfish. With all the pressure on him, he stepped up. Big time. And when it counted most, is when he was at his best. Dropping 33, 38 and 28 in the final three games, setting all kinds of records for Americans in international play. Even when Team USA’s offense, or lack thereof, seemed to come to a standstill, Durant carried them singlehandedly, and was the lone Team USA member to average double figures, putting up just under 23 points per game.

2. Shout out to the the vets Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom, or as ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla dubbed them, the “safety blankets.” Early on, both stumbled. Billups was suspect on D, and uncharacteristically missed free throws — the most clear indication of his struggles. Odom was quiet and ineffective, too. But down the stretch of the tournament, both, especially Odom, answered the call, and showed why you’re taught to respect your elders. Odom, in particular, was absolutely huge, snagging 33 boards over the last three games, and igniting the fastbreak that was so key to the team’sEric Gordon success. He seemed to be in the right place at the right time, time and time again. Billups steadied up, and finished as the team’s second leading scorer. The “old-heads” got it done.

3. Shout out to the energizer bunnies, Eric Gordon and Russell Westbrook. Early on, there was speculation that one, or both, would likely end up being cut. But in practice, scrimmages and friendlies, each earned his way on to the team and didn’t stop there. Both played their way into the rotation, and neither would have a bad game. When the starters came out flat — which happened on more than one occasion — Gordon and Westbrook were always able to provide a shock of life. Gordon solidified himself as one of the deadliest shooters in the game (if we didn’t know it already), looking so good that some thought he should even be starting. Westbrook was a highlight waiting to happen every time he touched the floor. His shooting was considered a weakness, but he knocked several nice mid-range jumpers (and even a couple threes, granted, the line is shorter), and used his explosiveness to serve as one of the team’s best zone busters. To top it off, both players locked up on D.

4. Shout out to Derrick Rose. His play tapered off a bit as the tournament went along, but that doesn’t discount the things he did earlier on; made some great plays late in games or in the shot clock, and, for a time, was the best offensive option next to KD. The confidence he was playing with was great to see (especially for Bulls fans), as he showed off his much improved jumper, and looked to have gotten even faster. If that’s possible. Even after not playing the entire fourth quarter in the semifinal game against Lithuania, he bounced back and helped seal the deal in the championship the next night.

5. Shout out to Andre Iguodala. The fact that he played as much as he did — starting every game — lets you know just how good of a defender he is. His shot looked terrible (though he shot 58 percent), but at the other end, he was all clamps. Guarding 4-men, he defended inside and out, post and perimeter. He got his hands on a countless number of balls and led the team in steals with 16 for the tournament.

6. Shout out to Kevin Love. Minute for minute, he may have been the most impressive, most productive player on Team USA. His playing time was inconsistent, but what he did when he got he in wasn’t. He dominated the boards, finished around the basket and stroked it from the outside. Until the late surge by Odom, he was the team’s best big man. All this in spite of the fact that he looked like Mike Posner (word to Lang Whitaker).

7. Last but certainly not least, shout out to Jerry Colangelo and Coach K. Colangelo has been phenomenal restoring a sense of culture and pride in Team USA, working from the ground up. Coach K proved why he’s one of the best to ever do it. While it helped to have a group of guys willing to put egos to the side, he developed the chemistry to a T and perfected the rotation by the end of the tournament. He’s on one hell of a run right now, also. Winning Gold in 2008, an ACC and National Championship with Duke, and now this. Not to mention, the Blue Devils have their best team in years and should enter — and possibly finish — the season as the best team in the country. And he’ll be with Team USA again in 2012, which he said will definitely be his last go-round. Calling him the greatest coach ever is arguable, of course, but especially given his current run, top three ever is not. If he wins another national championship or gold again in 2012, that case for best ever could be solidified.

The games were a chance to see the future of the NBA. Never before has there been a national team consisting entirely of players poised to have the best season of their life. Save Odom, Billups and Tyson Chandler, every player on that roster, from KD to KLove will enter the ‘10-11 season ready to have the finest year of their young careers. Playing with Team USA will be a major factor in their growth.

That being said, it will be very interesting two years from now when the Olympic squad is being put together. The big shots (Kobe, LeBron, etc.) will likely be back, but they will (or at least they should) have to earn it, because these young boys who played this year will be hungry, and if they’re not careful, somebody’s gonna get their spot taken.

They didn’t always look marvelous and certainly had their flaws, but Team USA 2010 went to Turkey and held it down. Shout out to them for doing so.

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  • http://www.slamonline.com/ niQ

    That’s a lot of shouting. Shout out to shouting.

  • lexluther703

    AMEN it’s about time someone wrote in giving these guys there due, great write-up.. This squad was absolutely amazing to watch, good to see the U.S. back on top of the hoops world.

  • http://thekobebeef.wordpress.com LDR4

    Love the piece, especially the shout out to Love. I wrote a big story about his numbers from Team USA earlier this week. They are phenomenal. Last year in the league his total rebounds per 36 minutes trumped Dwight Howard’s. Now that Al Jefferson is gone, Love is poised to go wild. I like your point that Redeem members should have to earn roster spots for 2012. I want the team to take the best available to London and not base their roster on players’ notions of grandeur and self worth. Again, great piece.

  • CoachK

    Too true. I kept thinking K Love needed more burn, he was productive and efficient every time he stepped on the floor.

    Team USA was a joy to watch. I espn3′d that jank from my office at work every time they played.

    Kevin Durant proved himself to be possibly the best International scorer for the USA Team for years to come.

  • b

    Love the article… its about time someone wrote an article about the team winning instead of why they should have lost… great article…

  • http://www.ripcityreport.com Xavier G

    Shout out to Rudy Gay

  • http://twitter.com/HarryByrdMan44 LA Huey

    co-sign niQ and b
    Odom and Love really impressed me. It’s no wonder Beasley thinks the Lake Show and Wolves are the team to beat.

  • http://www.twitter.com/TheDiesel Anton

    Respect, thought the tournament would get more media attention than it did.

  • The Lord of Nsam (formerly known as Fresh Prince)

    I really liked this Team USA. It was 4 me the occasion 2 watch for the first time some players whose NBA teams don’t have much airtime on ESPN. And I was really impressed by KLove’s rebounding, Iguodala’s defense (in FIBA play), Eric Gordon’s tuffness and Russell Westbrook’s speed (reminded me of a stronger Tony Parker). Massively impressed by KD and LO but I was really deceived by DRose play during the last 3 games… Luckilly, RWestbrook was there…

  • reflex

    AI mk2 really was beastly on D in Turkey, looked like Pippen out there at times. Whether he can be as effective in the NBA is another matter

  • mike

    meh australia will win olympics.

  • Konvalium

    I watched all the games of your national team through the world cup competition and the friendly game between greece and us ! The thing that the majority of the basketball fans saw was the top quality of basketball that all those players offered to us and the most important thing among others was the huge appetite for basketball ! That’s what in my opinion we have to keep from this marvelous team!! Cheers thanks for the beautiful moments

  • nastierthanu4

    turkey is a great city

  • Jeremiah

    Shout out to Ron Burgandy and the Channel 4 dipset for keeping it real. Word.