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World of difference for US - Sep 8, 2006

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This experience was not the disaster so many uninformed Americans undoubtedly think it was. To put it in Belichickian terms, the USA basketball situation is what it is.

"We knew when we started this was going to be a journey, not a short trip," says coach Mike Krzyzewski. "We have to learn the international game better."

How much more evidence could the American basketball public possibly need to be convinced that winning gold medals at the highest level of international competition is no longer easy? Forget about the '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70, '80s and, most of all, forget about the one-and-only 1992 Dream Team, which obliterated 14 foes by an average of 47 points a game and whose smallest margin of victory was 32 (the gold medal game against Croatia). You might as

US runs away from Argentina, 96-81, for the bronze medal.

"All those kids around the world who watched the Dream Team are all grown up now," points out America's Shane Battier. "And guess what? They're fast, strong, athletic and they can shoot. This is a global game now, and it's exciting to be part of a world's championship that is truly a world's championship."

Battier was 13 himself when the Dream Team ruled. By the time he came of age, basketball globalization was in full gallop. What his personal on-court experience tells him is that America needs to bring a straight-A game any time it involves itself in either a world's championship such as this one or an Olympics. Sure, you still will have some mismatches in the preliminary rounds, but once you get to the medal round, you are guaranteed to be playing a team that knows how to play and will have no fear of playing the US. In that regard, it's no different from the NCAA Tournament.

Get this in your head. Starting with the loss to Argentina in the 2002 Worlds at Indianapolis, the USA/NBA squad is, with yesterday's 96-81 victory over that same Argentina squad in the bronze medal game (and it essentially is the same Argentina squad), now 14-7 in its last 21 games. In each of the last two competitions, the US lost three times. So a 7-1 record and a bronze medal doesn't look so bad now, does it?

The ultimate goal is winning the gold in Beijing two years hence but winning a gold here was always a serious quest, too. That would have been a tremendous confidence-builder for a team that averages 24 years of age. And if they hadn't caught Greece on a night when the Greeks were shooting 63 percent from the field while making their first 10 shots in the third quarter.

But that's precisely the point. In years past, there was no team on earth other than the US capable of doing what Greece did in that game. Now there are several. And soon there will be more. Right now the strong teams are from Europe and South America. But the Africans and Asians are coming.

"Twenty-five years from now," Battier predicts, "China will be a powerhouse. They'll have 2 billion people inspired by Yao Ming." He's right, of course, but it won't take 25 years.

Hey, be happy they got a bronze.

"It could have been a lot worse," says Chris Bosh. "Better to go home with something."

"We came here with respect for world basketball," says Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo, who devised the idea of putting together a true "national team" that would require a three-year commitment from every player. "We knew how good they all were. We had no delusions."

Now we'll find out just how serious, determined, and loyal these players are. Had they won the gold here, they'd have been fast-forwarded to the 2008 Olympics. They could have had a relaxing summer of 2007. Since they didn't win this tournament, they must now compete for one of two available regional Olympic berths by going to a regional qualifying tournament next summer in Venezuela, where, aside from whatever problems they will face on the court, they no d  

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Borislav STANKOVIC - FIBA Secretary General Emeritus (Photo: FIBA)
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