Archive - Sep 11, 2006
From an article of the same title (sub-titled Why does the United States keep losing in international sports?) by Robert Weintraub on slate.com:
In the wee hours of Friday morning, another American basketball team met its international Waterloo, losing to Greece in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship. This squad was supposed to be a corrective to prior failures, most notably a bronze in the 2004 Olympics and a humbling sixth at the 2002 Worlds. Yet once again, despite a more strategically built team and the Madison Avenue-minted genius of Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, the United States once again came up shy.
Cue the recriminations. According to the newspaper columnists and television pundits, the Americans lost because they relied too much on individual talent at the expense of team play. They didn't pay attention to fundamentals and defense. They looked to make dunks and no-look passes instead of hustling for loose balls and setting screens. They were felled by hubrisitic arrogance.
Seems like we've been here before, very recently. Two months ago, the U.S. flamed out of the World Cup under a hailstorm of criticism. But strangely enough, the American soccer team was criticized for the exact opposite reasons. The players didn't have enough flair. They were fundamentally sound but lacking in creativity and athleticism. The U.S. team was faceless, artless, and empty. They're "trained monkeys" who are "incapable of having an original or ad-libbed thought on a soccer pitch."
Basketball and soccer aren't all that different, except in scoring rates. Both sports prize fast, fluid athletes who can think on their feet. Teamwork usually trumps individuality. So, why the contradictory excuses for America's bad showings in international play?
The U.S. basketball team lost because it ran into an extremely hot Greek team in a one-and-done game...
The single biggest reason for the loss was the Americans' failure to defend the high pick-and-roll. Greece ran this simple play on almost every possession after the first quarter for layup after layup. The United States' lapses against the pick-and-roll don't have anything to do with the me-first nature of the American player, though. This was a deficiency in scoutingâ€”Coach K and his staff should have been better prepared for Greece's offense. But more than anything, team defense depends on reps and familiarity, something this hastily assembled team didn't have. By the time the 2008 Olympics roll around, the U.S. defense won't be a sieve.
Now, let's look at the U.S. soccer team. As I wrote in June, the Americans' failings in the World Cup had more to do with our guys failing to challenge themselves in the top European leagues than with the team's supposed deficit in creativity.