U.S. team hears the boos in Serbia

July, 15, 2009
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan was heading out to grab some souvenirs with his USA Basketball staff from their time at the World University Games in Belgrade, Serbia, and the cab driver made sure to take the Americans past bombed-out buildings, a harsh reminder of the war in the Balkans that tore apart the former Republic of Yugoslavia.

"U.S.A. did this, NATO," the taxi driver said to his passengers.

"Wait a minute; what does this have to do with us?" Ryan said he thought to himself. "You knew then that the cab driver had blown his tip. There is a sentiment that is still there. It's still the United States and in basketball, they also know we're pretty good."

The staff coaching the World University Games team through the first two weeks of July said that for the most part they weren't treated harshly when they were walking around. They were protected by a security force, a dedicated detail that USA Basketball said was top-notch. But the reception inside Belgrade Arena when they played the Serbs in a preliminary game that was won by the Americans was understandably nasty. The Americans were the ultimate road team. Everyone expected that.

What wasn't predicted was the treatment the Americans received last Saturday night when they went out to receive their bronze medals after a win earlier in the day against Israel -- after Serbia had just won the gold medal with a win over Russia.

"It was the worst I've ever seen," said Miami coach Frank Haith, an assistant to Ryan at the WUG. "There were little kids shooting us the bird. There were people yelling '[bleep] you!' It was ridiculous. We had a planned escape route if it got even worse. We were in a section for the gold-medal game where there was no one around us [for a buffer]."

Haith said the Americans were instructed not to go to the bathroom without a security person.

USA Basketball spokeswoman Caroline Williams, who was traveling with the team, said the Americans were told that security had been ramped up for the gold-medal game between Russia and Serbia.

"When it was one-on-one with the Serbs we had no problems, everyone was great," Williams said. "Our security force was phenomenal. They didn't want there to be any problem."

Williams said that the 20,000 fans booing during the medal ceremony was "pretty bad." And she added that everyone was reminded at times by the locals of the bombed-out buildings and who was allegedly responsible.

Ryan said he received a call from U.S. senior national team coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, who told him: "Nobody knows what you're up against. It was everything to them."

Still, despite the rude reception, the Americans desperately wanted another shot at the Serbs in the gold-medal game. But they lost to Russia by one point in the semifinal, forcing a bronze-medal game against Israel.

Ryan said that except for a three-minute stint against the Russians, the Americans played exceptionally. The Americans held teams to 67.7 points a game and 21 percent on 3s -- something that USA Basketball junior national team selection committee chair Jim Boeheim of Syracuse warned Ryan of before the event. Ryan said Boeheim told him he had to defend the 3-point line, so limiting their opponents to shooting 30-of-143 from 3 was a statistic Ryan took pride in.

"I'm not sure we would have beaten Serbia in the championship, but I would have loved to have played them in that atmosphere," Haith said.

"They booed us because of the '90s," Ryan said. "We wanted to play in that final game against Serbia. But we couldn't close the deal against Russia."

Ryan didn't have a Wisconsin player on the squad, but he did have four players who will go against him next season. He said he told them that they all improved during the tournament and "will likely kick my rear end next season."

At the top of that list is Penn State's Talor Battle. He wasn't expected to beat out Arizona's Nic Wise to make the team, but he did and led the Americans in scoring at 10.3 points a game and made 52 percent of his 3s in seven games (13 of 25).

"He not only improved during that NIT run for Penn State, but with this experience, too," Ryan said.

Ohio State's Evan Turner was last on the team in scoring at 4.0 a game. He's a scorer for Ohio State. But for the U.S. team on this trip he was more of a facilitator and a defender. Turner had 18 assists and six turnovers and six steals.

"He wasn't looking for his shot, but he was a great team player," Ryan said. "Everybody knows he can score."

Purdue's Robbie Hummel was a typical glue guy for Ryan, averaging 7.3 points and 5.6 rebounds a game and doing just about everything for the Americans in the seven games. Marquette's Lazar Hayward was a pleasant surprise, averaging 9.3 points and 5.6 rebounds. Hayward, who will go against Ryan's Badgers in a nonconference game next season, will be counted on to be much more of a go-to player for the Golden Eagles with the departures of seniors Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal and Dominic James.

"Every coach that has done this knows how hard it is to play 12 guys," said Ryan, who managed the minutes somewhat evenly, with no one getting more than 19 or less than 10 a game. "You've got to be tough to get a medal -- be it gold, silver or bronze -- and be booed like that. But we were on the road."

• One detail that is coming out of Memphis' hearing with the NCAA on June 6 dealing with charges of violations by the men's basketball program under former coach John Calipari could be telling. Calipari wasn't named in any of the allegations, which dealt with an allegedly fraudulent SAT score by former player Derrick Rose, as well as possible extra benefits received by Rose's brother, Reggie Rose, in the form of unpaid travel expenses.

Yet when Memphis and the NCAA's committee on infractions met in Indianapolis, Calipari was asked to join the meeting via conference call from China, where he was conducting basketball clinics. Calipari, now the head coach at Kentucky, was on the phone for three hours, according to multiple sources, and was barely involved in the conversation, with only one or two questions directed at him. That might be an indication that Calipari won't be named in any penalties.

A decision from the committee on infractions is likely due in the next three to four weeks. The major issue addressed by the COI is whether it will decide to vacate Memphis' NCAA-record 38 wins from the 2007-08 season for using an ineligible player (Rose) after his test score was invalidated in May of 2008. Rose may also be deemed ineligible if his brother was found to have received improper benefits in the form of unpaid travel expenses.

The NCAA eligibility center contends it has the right to determine whether a student should have been cleared even after he has played a full season. Memphis' defense is that since Rose was initially cleared by the NCAA, why should any wins be taken away retroactively, even if Rose was deemed ineligible after new information came forward after the season?

If the NCAA does vacate Memphis' wins, there would be even more precedent in the future to take away wins if any wrongdoing is uncovered after the fact, even though a player may initially have been cleared to be eligible. The next case like this would involve USC and the allegations concerning former player O.J. Mayo, if it is determined that Mayo shouldn't have been eligible after new information revealed allegations of extra benefits that would have jeopardized his amateur status.

• No offense to Providence's Keno Davis. Getting an extension after an NIT season and 19 wins isn't totally crazy. After all, it was just his first season with the Friars.

But the spin out of the public relations department is always a bit humorous. One of the points the Friars are selling is that Davis led them to their first Big East tournament victory since 2003. That is factually accurate. But the win was over DePaul, which went winless in the regular season, and came on Day 2 of a five-day Big East tournament.

Former coach Tim Welsh was fired for being essentially an NIT coach with the Friars. Davis made the NIT with Welsh's players in his first year. The team was senior-laden, so we'll see how quickly Davis transitions with his team in the future. He'll have time, given that he now has through 2015-16 to coach the Friars.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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