Friday, August 22, 2008

My Problem With Olympic Basketball

Will you ever see the Team USA bench go bananas after cutting a nine-point deficit to six, just before the half in a semifinal basketball match against Argentina? Of course not. Which is why the Olympics need to go back to the old days of using amateurs.

Anyway, Argentina's bench lost their minds after cutting America's lead to six, at 46-40. Remember, Argentina's the defending Gold Medal winner.

And that's fine. It's fine that Team USA would never go nuts like Argentina did. Really, it is. And in no way am I suggesting that Dwyane Wade (or whoever) is unpatriotic (or too cool) because of this. But I am suggesting that it's hard when you're always the overwhelming favorite; it's hard getting up for games that you know you should win by twenty (just as they did today against Argentina).

It reminds me of a 3-14 game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament: If the No. 14 seed comes out unafraid and a little hot, they can make a game of it. If the No. 3 seed comes out somewhat bored and a little flat, they're in for a ballgame.

And again, I'm fine with this - it's human nature.

Consider what happened several times in today's contest, which is supposed to be a really big deal for everyone involved: Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant, two of the game's absolute best under pressure, routinely missed wide-open threes (at the International range of 20'6) against Argetina's soft zone. Anthony and Bryant simply don't miss open mid-range jumpers (which is what a 21-footer is to NBA players) in a game of any significance over here - they just don't. These two, and the rest of them, are missing shots because it's simply too easy; they lose concentration. Kobe Bryant is used to battling constant double teams to get the slightest bit of daylight, and now you're telling me he's able to routinely step into a 21-footer...and it's worth three points? Really? And he misses some of them? Huh?

Now, I know bringing in college players doesn't mean that said 21-footers will suddenly start dropping. In fact, they will probably miss with greater regularity. But the games will be more fun to watch. More importantly, the future of USA basketball will be in a much better place if you send the guys who will actually improve because of International competition (which, face it, doesn't happen for LeBron James when he spins past a Lithuanian small forward). Think about it, Bearcat fans, how much better would Deonta Vaughn be after playing a summer of Olympic basketball? And how much fun would it be to monitor his progress on tape-delay from China? See, everybody wins...even if the amateurs didn't always take home the gold.

Besides, what else does America have to prove on the basketball court? The answer is nothing. Team USA could finish sixth at the next ten Olympics and would still be considered the country with the finest basketball players in the world. Nobody would ever dispute that. This would be especially true if you sent a bunch of youngsters over there to compete. Again, LeBron James hasn't improved one bit during these Olympics (how could he?), but Deonta Vaughn would grow leaps and bounds--as a player and hopefully leader--with his time on Team USA.

Plus, it's always fun to be the underdog. Even if USA would still be favorite.

-Brad Spieser (