By its usual lofty standards, the U.S. men’s basketball team has been a bit of a disappointment. No, the Americans haven’t lost a game – and they probably won’t – but they haven’t authored nearly as many routs as we’re used to seeing, perhaps out of boredom.
Is it time for Team USA to go back to college players, and, if so, could that team be competitive and win gold?
“I think this is an unusual year,” NBA-TV’s Jared Greenberg told Damon Amendolara, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Not only (is) the USA Basketball roster downgraded from what we expected it to be due to a combination of injuries, player commitments, contract statuses and guys just needing a break – and that’s fair for them to do because many of them have played (and represented) the country before – but in addition to the best team in the world being down, I think several of the other teams are also down. I think what’s happening is that the real Golden Era – or however you want to brand what happened in the late ’90s into the 2000s, when there rest of the world quote-unquote started to catch up or at least close the gap with USA Basketball – is that those players are still being utilized on many of the rosters and they’re getting old.”
Take Argentina, for example.
“You look at the team that USA is going to play (Wednesday) night for the right to be in the semifinals,” Greenberg said. “You’re looking at Luis Scola, 36, Manu Ginobili, 39, Carlos Delfino, 33, Andres Nocioni, 36. Practically anybody who is going to be impactful tomorrow, sans their point guard, is well into their mid-30s. While I like to think it’s the highlight of my life right now in my early 30s, these guys and their basketball careers, they’re starting to (regress) in international competition and professional competition. So it’s these other countries not developing the next generation of superstars that made these countries relevant – or at least feared – by USA squads 10, 12, 16 years ago.”
So if the rest of the world is down, couldn’t a U.S. team comprised of college players win gold? Greenberg says no.
“(Argentina) would carve up a team made up of USA college stars,” said Greenberg, who gives Argentina “no shot” of beating the United States on Wednesday. “No question about it. Tomorrow night, the Argentina team is going to go into the game fully understanding that Team USA is younger, more athletic and more talented. And yet, there are going to be moments in the game where you say, ‘Oh wow, that’s why Manu Ginobili is a Hall of Famer. That’s why he’s a national hero for what he’s done for the country on the basketball court.’”
Indeed, Ginobili and his aforementioned countrymen are the best that Argentina can offer. Team USA can say that about some of its players, but certainly not all.
That makes for closer games, but does it make sense?
“It doesn’t make sense to me that we’re okay with the best swimmers in America dominating in the pool and the best gymnasts dominating in the Olympics, but when it comes to the basketball, we have something against the best basketball players representing our country, as if this sport is supposed to offer up less than the best,” Greenberg said. “But every other sport is okay to do so. Let’s remember why we got into this position. It just bugs me that we take for granted how good our country is instead of appreciating it. We celebrate the swimmers and gymnasts. I’m not taking away from them. They deserve to be praised and to get everything coming their way. But why should we not also honor our basketball program fully understanding that should they lose to Argentina – or should they advance and then lose to the winner of the Spain/France game – they’re going to be deemed as the most disappointing team in the history of USA Basketball?”
Greenberg added that American college players would not have any chance of medaling at the Olympics, much less winning gold.
“I don’t (think they would),” he said. “I don’t. I know I’ve already said the rest of the world is down, but it’s disrespectful to think that a team full of professionals like Spain or France wouldn’t be able to dismantle a bunch of 18- and 19-year-old kids who are playing together for the first time and have had three weeks or four weeks of experience getting to know one another in a system.”
And for anyone who doesn’t like the United States’ basketball dominance, Greenberg says tough. If America is the best basketball country in the world – and it is – other countries need to catch up.
“I don’t believe the solution is that we should put lesser talent out there to level the playing field and then watch America react to us having a losing program or (being a disappointment),” Greenberg said. “I think it’s a disservice to sports (and) to those other countries.”