Team USA ready for Olympics
Owning a 5-1 mark in their six exhibition games and with a total of 12 practices behind them, the USA Basketball Men's Senior National Team arrived in Greece late Thursday afternoon with gold on their minds.
"We still have a couple of day, but I don't know where we are," replied USA head coach Larry Brown to a question Wednesday on where his team was in its preparations. "We have good moments and bad, but I've got a pretty good understanding of who needs to play. Now the job is to get an understanding of how we have to play."
The U.S. men, gold medalists in 12 of the 14 Olympics in which it has participated and owners of a spectacular 109-2 win-loss record in Olympic play, open Olympic play Aug. 15 against Puerto Rico in a 8:00 p.m. (Athens local time) game.
It's been a crash course in International Basketball 101 and How To Become A Team 101 for the Americans. Playing six games in 10 days and in four different countries, the US emerged with a 5-1 record.
"We've got to have great defensive intensity the whole game. Especially when you know that people are going to zone us and if you have good defense, it usually allows you to run and we need to get easy baskets. That's something that is vital," added Brown.
Playing its first exhibition game July 31 in Jacksonville, Florida, versus Olympic qualifier Puerto Rico, who will be the USA's first opponent of the Olympics on Aug. 15, the USA was impressive in an up-tempo 96-71 win.
Moving to Cologne, Germany, for games against Olympic qualified Italy and the German National Team, the USA senior team lost an exhibition game for the first time in 20 outings as Italy's outside shooting eye was on and its international style of basketball was too much for the USA as Italy rolled to a 95-78 victory on Aug. 3.
Bouncing back against Dirk Nowitzki and the German National Team the following night on Aug. 4, Nowitzki seemingly forced overtime after he drained a 3-pointer with just over three seconds remaining. But Allen Iverson launched his own winner from just inside half court and just an eyelash before the buzzer to lift the Americans to an 80-77 victory.
Moving on to Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro, the US faced the challenging task of facing the defending World champions on their new home court where they were 3-0 having just won the FIBA Diamond Ball. Playing its most impressive game of the exhibition tour, the USA got out ahead early and rolled on to a 78-60 win on Aug. 6.
Historic Istanbul, Turkey and a pair of games against Turkey were the USA's last stop before Athens. Turkey and its racious crowd pushed the US twice, but both times the USA finished strong and was able to secure 12-point wins, upending Turkey 79-67 on Aug. 8 and 80-78 on Aug. 10.
Tim Duncan paced the Americans during their exhibition tour averaging 17.7 ppg. and 8.7 rpg., while Allen Iverson added 12.6 PPG and 3.2 apg., and Carmelo Anthony was the other player to finish averaging in double figures with 10.3 PPG (complete cumulative statistics)
The 2004 Olympic men's basketball competition takes place Aug. 15-28 in Athens. The United States men, the three-time defending Olympic champions, will compete in Group B with Angola, Australia, Greece, Lithuania and Puerto Rico. The other men's preliminary round group, Group A, consists of Argentina, China, Italy, New Zealand, Serbia & Montenegro and Spain.
The USA men open preliminary play in the 2004 Olympics on Sunday, Aug. 15 against Puerto Rico (8 p.m., all times are local time), then will play host Greece on Tuesday, Aug. 17 (10:15 p.m.), Australia on Thursday, Aug. 19 (2:30 p.m.), Lithuania on Saturday, Aug. 21 (8 p.m.), and the US concludes its preliminary play facing Angola on Monday, Aug. 23 (2:30 p.m.). Quarterfinals play is slated for Thursday, Aug. 26, with semifinals action being held on Friday, Aug. 27 and the final games to determine first through eight places are slated to be played on Saturday, Aug. 28.