In fact, the best team for this Olympic competition could have been fielded from current ACC players. Just think about this roster: Chris Paul, Raymond Felton, John Gilchrist, J.J. Redick, Justin Gray, Daniel Ewing, Julius Hodge, B.J. Elder, Nik Caner-Medley, Jamaal Levy, Shelden Williams, Sean May, and Eric Williams.
You probably won't find a better trio of playmaking point guards than Paul, Felton and Gilchrist. They can handle the ball without turning it over, they can distribute to teammates effectively and efficiently, they can penetrate defenses, they can pressure the ball defensively, and (given the chance) they can set up outside and hit the long range jumper. Can you honestly say that about the current Olympic group of Stephon Marbury, Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson? I don't think so.
How about the shooters? Redick, Gray, Ewing, Elder and even Paul are significantly better at hitting shots than anyone on the current US roster. Even Hodge, Caner-Medley, Levy and Shelden Williams can hit mid-range jumpers on a more consistent basis than anyone besides maybe Carmelo Anthony. You wouldn't see shooting percentages in the low 30s with this group, or even a 3-for-24 effort from three-point range. Even the area of free throw shooting would be vastly improved with Redick, Gray, Paul, Hodge and Felton all hitting above 80 percent.
Don't worry about rebounding. May, Levy and Shelden Williams have all averaged over eight rebounds per game, and Hodge, Caner-Medley and Gilchrist are some of the best rebounding guards in the nation. Hodge, Elder and Caner-Medley are active forwards who can create matchup problems, and May, Shelden Williams, and Eric Williams are skilled big men, who know how to set picks and run plays, concepts that most of the current Olympic roster would have trouble grasping.
And how about a coaching staff made up entirely of current ACC coaches? Of course, Roy Williams is already an assistant with the current Olympic team, but what if Mike Krzyzewski, Gary Williams and Skip Prosser were involved? Now think about this: what if the Olympic team ran an active, "position-less" system that focuses on ball movement and hitting outside jumpers? How many opposing international teams could handle Herb Sendek's Princeton-like offense if it involved the ACC's top stars? Certainly, the current US Olympians would've needed months to learn such a complex scheme, but current collegians would be able to run it in a matter of weeks.
Don't be fooled by the prognosticators who claim that US Olympic basketball would be taking a step backwards if it were to return to a college-based system again. The college game is the best example of true basketball we have in this country. The current Olympic squad has an average of just under two years of college experience per player (buoyed by Tim Duncan's four years at Wake Forest). That's not enough pure basketball experience to be playing against the best in the world. So why not let the college kids play? It certainly couldn't be any worse.
* * * US Olympic Hoops Debacle Has Deep Roots
Most of the basketball world had already known that American dominance in basketball was rapidly dissipating. But as soon as the US Olympic Men's Basketball Team was demolished by Italy in an early exhibition game, the entire world knew it.
So, how did US Olympic Basketball go from the Dream Team to the Nightmare Team? You can't entirely blame the selection committee headed by Stu Jackson. They have had their alibi for some time, with all but three of the pre-selected NBA stars turning down a chance to represent their county in the Olympics for a number of excuses. Of course, Jackson's group didn't do themselves (or USA Basketball) any favors by selecting replacements based on NBA superstar status rather than the skills needed for a team playing by international rules.
The international game is clearly different than the kind of street ball that is readily accepted as the NBA style. In international basketball, you need to have shooters – lots of shooters. You also need point guards who function as team leaders by making plays, taking care of the ball and getting the ball to teammates. But most of all, you need to know how to play solid, fundamental defense.
What good are tough rebounders like Carlos Boozer, Emeka Okafor and Amare Stoudamire if they can't take their game away from the basket (especially with the trapezoidal lane used in international ball)? What good are "point guards" like Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury if they can't work within the team concept? What good are young athletes like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony if they can't play a lick of defense?
Sure, Jackson and his selection committee screwed up by not learning from the disaster at the 2002 World Championships, where an NBA-led US team finished embarrassingly in sixth place. But you can't place the entire blame on the selection committee. No, American basketball as a whole must be held responsible.
The NBA has been held as the gold standard of basketball in the US, but its players are increasingly inexperienced when it comes to fundamentals. The game itself has evolved (or devolved, depending on your point of view) into a showcase for athletic ability rather than pure basketball skill. How else do you explain the recent dominance of young players who come right out of high school and bypass the learning experience of the college game?
Of course, it starts much earlier than that. Kids these days grow up idolizing the dunks, the slick one-on-one moves and the attitudes that are so prevalent in the NBA game. They idolize athletes like LeBron, Carmelo, and Kobe Bryant, rather than the skilled all-around players like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Fans of the NBA game would rather "ooh" and "ah" over a spectacular 360-degree slam, rather than an accurate mid-range shot. How would they react these days to a successful pick-and-roll, or an accurate bounce pass, or a high-arcing shot off the glass? "Bor-ing!"
Even in the high-profile sneaker camps where high school players get noticed by more NBA scouts than college recruiters, players spend significantly more time playing pick-up games rather than learning fundamentals. It's no wonder why international players are having more success playing a game that was invented and nurtured in America.
American basketball has been fattened on the entertainment value it promotes, and now it's being led to the slaughter. So feel free to watch the US Men's Basketball Team in Olympic competition, but do so at your own risk. It's not going to be pretty.
* * * Boozer Not the Only Loser in the NBA
I honestly don't know why people are so up in arms about how Carlos Boozer screwed over the Cleveland Cavaliers by getting them to release him from his contract under good faith only to sign with another team. Since when have we held NBA players to such high standards as ethical business practices? It's not like these athletes are model citizens.
The phrase "ethical business practices" is basically a contradiction in terms these days. You can't even go through the morning paper without reading about the lack of ethics in today's business world. So why are we holding professional athletes to a higher standard?
Remember, NBA basketball is much more of a business than it is a sport. So the next time some former pro basketball star does something that we regard as unethical, stop and tell yourself that's just the way it is. After all, NBA players are entertainers, and as such, are beyond any higher code of morality. Right?
I mean, if we were to chastise every NBA player that breaks an oral agreement with team owners, skips practice, shows up late for team meetings, does drugs, cheats on his wife, beats his girlfriend, kicks a referee, chokes his coach, gets mixed up in the occasional murder investigation and throws punches every time he rubs shoulders with some "fool that's dissin' him," we would be putting too much pressure on them to be responsible role models. And that's just not fair.
Oh, pardon me while I take off my boots…