HoopsHype.com Columns

Greece win was no upset
by Eddie Johnson / September 6, 2006

 

THE AUTHOR:
EDDIE JOHNSON

Played 17 years in the NBA for the Kings, Suns, SuperSonics, Hornets, Pacers, Nuggets and Rockets.
Won the 1988-89 NBA Sixth Man Award averaging 21.5 ppg.
NBA all-time leading scorer among players with no All-Star appearances.
He is in his sixth year as the color analyst for the Phoenix Suns broadcasts.
You can visit his website at www.jumpshotclub.com

When Greece beat the United States at the 2006 World Basketball Championships, people made the mistake of using the word "upset." I hear that Europeans are appalled that one would consider the Greeks manhandling of the USA an upset.

After all, the United States are just like any other loser in these competitions. They have lost in the last three finishing sixth in the 2002 Worlds, third in the 2004 Olympics and third again this year.

People, this is not a fluke. It’s real. We are not the best country anymore when it comes to the purity of basketball and that means “Team.”

We have great individual basketball players, but what does that get you? This is not golf or tennis. Last time I heard, this game was built on teamwork and dedication to improve over a period of time while bonding together as individuals thus becoming a "Team.”

USA Basketball did the right thing in trying to be more selective with its players and getting them to commit to the process laid out by Jerry Colangelo, but the problems we face as a basketball country are deep-rooted and it will take a while to recover and get back to the level we once were.

I said in an article here on HoopsHype that shooting could do us in and it did against Greece, but that was just a snippet of my thoughts about basketball in the United States and why we are not the best in “Team” basketball.

Players in the USA struggle at the basic fundamental skills like how to get open in any offense, backdoor cuts, setting and using screens, passing skills, and most importantly the art of the catch and shoot. Simple basketball skills that they should have been taught in grade school and high school continue to haunt our players in international competition.

The Greek team ran a simple pick-and-roll offense the entire second half and yet the USA team could not stop it. Why? Because the Greeks executed the play to perfection and countered every defensive counter-attack the Americans had to offer. Please, I don’t want to hear that had they played better defensively they would have won. Great offense will overcome any defense. Go ask Michael Jordan what he did his whole career.

It did not surprise me how committed the Greek team was in that victory. It is deep-rooted and I know first hand. I played in Greece in 1994-95 and I experienced the dedication to the fundamental part of the game and the bonding of its players.

I played for Olympiakos, one the top teams in Europe, and we practiced twice a day for eight months. I was initially taken aback with this process, but after seeing my teammates getting better and our play on the court improve every game, I began to understand the method behind the madness. But then again isn’t that what I did on the playgrounds of Chicago? I played from sun up to sun down and enjoyed the process of getting better.

I remember going to basketball courts in Chicago and being forced to play fundamental and unselfish basketball because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t get another game for an hour because there were over 50 kids waiting on the next game. You learned to pick your team well and bond with them so you could stay on the court.

I remember that you would try and get a bruiser who would rebound and not care how many points he scored and then you would get a very good point guard to lead your team. And then you would find three others who could run and shoot.

As I break down the key players of our USA Team, I saw three runners in Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But they were not content to just run and shoot. They wanted to run the offense and be the facilitators when they caught the ball, thus taking the responsibility away from inexperienced point guards Chris Paul and Kirk Hinrich, who would not dare attempt to instruct one of those three to give them the ball and allow them to create. And finally, we had bruisers Elton Brand, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh not playing like bruisers probably because they are normally fueled by getting a lot of touches on the offensive end.

I have to admit that this is a new generation of players and it is not all their fault. These players have been schooled through AAU and told that they were great since they were in grade school. These are the players that probably have never played on a blacktop consistently with the idea that if you lose you might as well go home. These are players that never worried about incorporating all the fundamental parts of basketball because they could get to the rim with ease and dunk on anyone in their way. But for all these great physical gifts, they missed out on how to execute the fundamental concept of shooting from all areas of the floor without having to dribble and how to bond and get to know their teammates whom you go to war with every night instead of hanging with their life-long friends every free moment they have.

That’s why the USA's struggles are so much deeper than just putting a team together. I honestly thought this collection of players played hard and really tried to do the right thing. I thought Carmelo Anthony was superb with his energy and shooting. I noticed how LeBron and Wade struggled playing alongside one another, but they did at least try because they are winners and respect one another.

But let’s face it: The first Dream Team will be no more unless the USA finds a dominant point guard who will run the show and have immediate respect from the other stars.

Magic Johnson was the reason that first team succeeded. He led the show and no one dared second-guess his decision-making on the floor. And that meant Jordan, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and company all fell in line with what Magic thought was best.

If the USA can't find that leader with the ball, the struggles might continue in Beijing.

Team USA had plenty of talent and I know USA Basketball went to great lengths to find a unit that was cohesive, but the one mistake they made was not making sure a dominant personality at point guard was on the team.

Jason Kidd, Mike Bibby, Chauncey Billups, Gary Payton or just not releasing Gilbert Arenas probably would have been answers.

I know Billups had prior commitments, but the others would have kept the ball out of LeBron and Wade’s possession until they could be potent.

Eddie Johnson is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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