By Arnie Leshin
Hey, look it over, how poorly did the United States fade with three defeats at the annual men’s basketball World Cup played at Manila in the Philippines?
The answer is the next stop at the Paris Olympics will be drawn up with a much more stronger roster consisting of more height, more depth, more speed, and whatever more it will take to surpass the downfall of this tournament won by undefeated Germany.
It was Lithuania that first got past the U.S., then came Germany in the semifinals, and then it was Canada claiming the bronze medal over the Americans in overtime.
Whoops three times down, not a good sign, big changes getting big looks, and red, white and blue now is hungry to rid itself of what was, in other words, too many fancy-dan plays, too many turnovers, not enough underneath strength, and it just goes on and on because history proves that the U.S.A. is still number one in hoops.
Except it was hardly proven in this World Cup played halfway around the world.
And it was surly a long flight back to Los Angeles in the states. It was about 13 hours on a chartered flight that didn’t have the wi-fi that’s necessary to communicate with the outside world from 30,000 feet up. No texting, no emails.
And no medals for the United States team coached by Steve Kerr, who was well aware what fell into his lap and what needs to be done in Paris, which will be much more than hanging out at the Effel Tower and the other festival places.
Times have changed. Whereas the U.S. has done little to share its actual dominance, other lands have gone into these tournaments with set lineups of their best players. Lithuania, Germany and Canada all had more size, more depth, tougher defense, and even more speed to run its offense.
Said Kerr, also head coach of the National Basketball Association’s Golden State Warriors: “Looking at the narrative about USA basketball and FIBA ball, and do we need reminders, we’re past due because these teams are really good.”
Thus, piecing together the prestigious Olympic prize will belong to Kerr and other members of the U.S. staff that includes the likes of Grant Hill and Sean Ford spending the next few months trying to pick the right dozen players to accompany them to Paris.
The mission won’t change: Gold or else. Silver won’t be enough of a repeat and Manila’s fourth-place finish would again be a disaster.
Yes, dot that down, that’s correct, the United States has gone to the Olympics in men’s basketball 19 times and has won 19 medals, the last four of them gold. On paper it looks easy, but it’s not anymore, never to be easy again is the reality.
Things go around and around as time goes by, and this also applies to sports. The Americans have held the upper hand in this, now it’s other nations closing in.
“I don’t think as many of us basketball players from the U.S. do,” said recently retired Carmelo Anthony from the NBA,” and this is to beware of other lands, but we still figure as number one with the best of rosters and should look much better in spite of what just transpired.”
Anthony has won four Olympics — three gold, one bronze, will he try another one?
“I’d say so,” said the former Syracuse All-America Most Valuable Player
when it won the NCAA championship his freshmen year. “I’ve kept in shape, kept up with many other players, and I’d be happy if I was chosen.”
Anthony also mentioned the likes of pro players Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Jason Tatum, Devin Booker, Daymond Green, Stephen Curry, as well as well-earned members of the World Cup like Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Anthony Edwards and Austin Reaves.
There will be no shortage of options because the Olympics are more appealing to most U.S. players than the World Cup is, more prestige, more attention, more headlines, brighter lights, bigger stage.
“What we’ve tried to do,” said Kerr, “is really learn what wins FIBA games. We’ve really studied everything about FIBA and the history of United States basketball. It’s when we won, what has been the best season, what we’re for, and what has been the season.”
There is one big wild card out there and Kerr did mention it. It’s huge Philadelphia 76er Joel Embiid, the reigning NBA MVP, and currently a free agent. Either way, it would be special to include Embiid in red, white and blue.
At a touch over 7 feet, Embiid is a true rarity. He was born in Cameroon, has French citizenship and became a U.S. citizen last year. And he’s never played on a senior national team, so it’s his call.
Thus, he and the others could make for a star-studded lineup although he’d have much better luck hoisting the winning trophy for America instead of France even though the site will be Paris.
Let the recruiting begin.