Aug. 17, 2004
It wasn't pretty, but coach Larry Brown was happy to see Team USA get to the winner's circle against Greece on Tuesday in Athens. The Greek team had the home crowd cheering wildly throughout a competitive contest.
The 77-71 final score was indicative of the fact that the U.S. men received a scare. But the intensity and defensive effort were much better than in the opening loss to Puerto Rico. The outside shooting, though, remains a major concern.
The bottom line is that Brown cannot expect this team to win by consistently hitting the trifecta. Even though the international 3-point line is closer than the NBA 3-pointer, Team USA still doesn't have the long-range bombers that most of its foreign opposition enjoys. The international 3-point line is at at 20 feet, 6 inches, while the NBA 3-pointer varies from a maximum of 23 feet, 9 inches at the top of the key to a minimum of 22 feet toward the sidelines (the college trifecta is at 19 feet, 9 inches).
For Team USA to do well, it must utilize its athleticism, play tenacious defense and force turnovers that lead to easy fast-break baskets. During one stretch against Greece, the Americans forced several turnovers and built a 10-point lead.
The Americans also need their big men to start making a larger contribution. Tim Duncan was dominant in the third quarter before picking up his fourth foul. When he fouled out later in the game, he gave Greece some hope. Lamar Odom, playing despite a stomach bug, came through on the defensive end with a couple of big blocks down the stretch. And Carlos Boozer made a key basket off a rebound in the final minute-plus to help seal the victory.
Also, give Allen Iverson credit for gutting it out as he played with a broken thumb. He played well in the first half as Team USA gained some confidence and built a six-point halftime lead.
It's important for Brown's team to build on this win. It wasn't easy, but there were some positives to take away from this victory.
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.