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For the first time in nearly four years the United States is holding the gold medal, not in the Olympics but in the tournament of the Americas. The United States, who once where so dominate in the game of basketball has suddenly become an after thought in the game, not because of lack of talent but because of complacency and laziness.
The last time the United States won a major world basketball event was in 2003, when the Americans won the tournament of the Americas in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Since then the United States has taken bronze twice, once in Athens during the 2004 Olympics and the other time in Japan during the 2006 World Basketball Championships. Since the end of the 2000 Sydney Olympics the once mighty Americans have seen their basketball empire crumble. In 2002 during the world basketball championship in Indianapolis the United States placed a distance sixth. The Americans continued to struggle into the 2004 games, losing an exhibition game to Italy, beating Germany on a buzzer beater, only to get pummeled by Puerto Rico and Argentina in the Olympics. In 2006 the United States did better, but still dropped an important game to Greece to finish third.
This year however much as changed. The Americans are no longer complacent about the rest of the world, and it looks as if their understanding of the international game is finally great enough to start dominating the way they once had. For the first time since 1996 an American mens team looked like a Dream Team, they did so not by being flashy but by playing basketball on both ends of the court. This years’ United States team dominated in such a way that was very reminiscent of the 92 and 96 Dream Teams.
While it is only the Tournament of the Americas and not the Olympics, the play and commitment by the Americas are at a level where it is needed. The players on the team have one goal, and that is to prove to the world that the United States is still the basketball capital of the world. For the first time since Atlanta the Americans flirted with National Team records, actually eclipsing some as a team and individually. Record accomplishment may not be the most important thing, but players willing to put their egos and pride a side is very important for the Americans. One such example is Lebron James against Uruguay, James could have set multiple records had he played in the second half, but he sat with the rest of the starters so as to prepare for Argentina. In years pasts this may have become a point of contention for certain players, but this team doesn’t seem to have the same attitude as others did.
One major problem going into Athens was the attitude of certain players. Players like Allen Iverson who was a constant disruption for the team by showing up late to practice or games and not being prepared. Iverson is also said to have looked down on some of his fellow teammates as he did not see them as players who should have been on the team, most notably Emeka Okafor, and Carlos Boozer. This year complacency for teammates was none existent, the stars like Kobe, Melo, or Bron did not look down on the lesser stars in guys like Tyson Chandler, Mike Miller and Deron Williams; in fact most reports from the pre-tournament camps stated just the opposite–many veterans had taken the younger guys under their wings.
The United States will also have something it has lacked for years when it heads to Beijing in 2008, and that is experienced players in the international game. Jason Kidd, Carmelo Anthony, and Lebron James all have more than 20 games of international experience now. Not since 1996 has, an American team had that much international experience going into the Olympics. The addition of guys with international experience such as Dwayne Wade will also help team USA bring home the gold.
Dwayne Wade was not on the team for the Tournament, but he did attend all the games and many of the practices and is expected to be on the roster for Beijing. Wade as well as 21 other players not on this year’s roster could be added to Beijing, but this brings up the question; should the US change anything? In my personal opinion team USA should not make many changes, Wade definitely should be added to the team, as should Chris Bosh. The problem is who do you drop? My first instinct would be to drop Tyson Chandler for Bosh, and Wade for Mike Miller, or even Deron Williams. Those would be about the only changes I would make, because this team had good chemistry and really had all the needed pieces to win the gold medal.