Aug. 3, 2004
If you are an American basketball fan, I guess you had to be shocked by Team USA's 17-point loss to Italy in a pre-Olympic exhibition on Tuesday. The Italians dominated and won 95-78.
Then again, if you think about what happened at the 2002 World Basketball Championship, with the U.S. really struggling -- losing three of its last four games and not winning a medal -- you can understand it. These European teams feature players who are familiar with one another and really play as a team.
Basketball is a game of timing and of working together as a unit. Look at the NBA champions this season: Under coach Larry Brown (who also is the Olympic coach), the Detroit Pistons played the right way and got to the winner's circle against a Los Angeles Lakers team that simply didn't have the same elements. Detroit made the extra pass to get the best shot possible and played great team defense and made big shots.
Basketball is a game of timing and of working together as a unit.
One thing that could give the Americans trouble is the long-range shooting of these foreign squads. Against Italy, the U.S. was dominated from long distance, giving up 15 trifectas while shooting just 4-of-13 from 3-point range. Remember, a lot of these foreign clubs can count on the big men to shoot from outside, too. Brown knows that 4-for-13 won't get it done in the Olympics, especially when you don't defend the shots from beyond the arc well.
In international basketball, players are solid fundamentally and the 3-point line is closer than in the NBA. That's an area where the foreigners excel, shooting that trey. The U.S. will have to do a better job shooting threes and become more efficient offensively.
With Brown and Olympic assistants Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs) and Roy Williams (North Carolina) leading the braintrust, the Americans will make adjustments and learn from this defeat. It will serve as a good wake-up call to these talented NBA stars.
Psychologically, it's a blow, and now the U.S. squad must understand that this adventure won't be easy. While it will be a tough road, I believe Brown will have a magical run and the players will respond. I still feel the American squad will sing the anthem of the red, white and blue in Athens.
But it will be a different team that comes through in the Olympics compared to the team that was blown out by Italy. It will be a hungrier squad that knows what needs to get done.
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979 (he's been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.