BY SAM AMICO
Random dribbles on USA basketball and why it’s due for some changes:
1. First, let me start by saying I loved watching Team USA in the Pan Am Games this past week. Yes, I realize I’m in the minority. And yes, I realize the U.S. had to settle for the bronze.
2. So, who made up Team USA in the Pan Am Games? Try former NBA swingman Damien Wilkins, age 35. And free-agent center Ryan Hollins, age 30. And former first-round pick Anthony Randolph, age 26. Basically, it was a mish-mash of guys you know — and several more I’m sure you don’t.
3. This team was coached by Gonzaga’s Mark Few, with former Cavs and Lakers coach Mike Brown acting as an assistant. It also featured a number of college players. For instance, Wichita State guard Ron Baker started alongside ex-NBAer Bobby Brown (another 30-something) in the backcourt.
4. Now, again, this particular team did not win the gold. In fact, the Americans lost to Team Canada in overtime in the semifinals. The Canadians were led by no less than the Magic’s Andrew Nicholson (31 points), and former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett (18 points) of the Timberwolves.
5. The U.S. then overcame a 21-point deficit in the bronze medal game to defeat the Dominican Republic.
6. Mark Few on that win: “I am hoping it is something they can use for the rest of their lives, even if it is not sports-related. Adversity hits, and it can be in its bleakest moment, you still have to fight. For sports, this was about the bleakest moment you could have for this group — who came in desperately wanting to win a gold and got their hearts broken. To come back in a game like this with nobody in the stands, you have to dig really, really deep, deeper than most of us ever get for long stretches in our life.”
7. Frankly, I’d much rather watch this level of player representing Team USA in the Olympics — as opposed to the Kyrie Irvings or Blake Griffins of the NBA world. I just think it’s too big of a risk to have high-priced superstars wearing themselves out, while playing as amateurs in the summer.
8. And what would you rather see – Irving help Team USA win the gold medal, or Irving help the Cavaliers win an NBA championship? I’m guessing most fans of the Cavs would pick an NBA title. And I bet it’s not even close.
9. Besides, I really believe the U.S. would have a good shot at the gold with a mix of some top-flight college players and decent pros. And if I’m wrong, so what? I’d gladly sacrifice a gold medal to have the NBA’s best rested and healthy and ready for the start of the season. That goes for NBA stars who play for international teams, too.
10. My favorite quote of the Pan Am Games came from Wilkins. “I feel like this is a gold medal for me,” he said after winning the bronze. “People can say what they want, but I had never worn a USA jersey. I had never competed in a tournament like this. I had never had an opportunity to win a medal. So, for me, this means everything.”
11. And that’s sort of my point: For me, basketball has never been about medals or titles. Those things are really cool, for sure. But it’s the game itself, the character of it and the characters who play it, that is the reward. Winning and losing are just things that have to happen.