It remains to be seen how the superstars of today react to disappointment. USA Basketball let down a nation this past weekend. Gold wasn't won. Third-best again.
|Will Kobe Bryant wear red, white and blue in two years? (Getty Images)|
Fans who actually cared enough to sacrifice some sleep in order to watch the festivities got a good show, but not the success everyone was coveting.
Greece was taken lightly by a U.S. team that pulled ahead early and coasted prematurely. As a result, a double-digit, second-half lead evaporated and a valuable lesson was learned.
The best don't always win.
The reigning world champion is Spain. The winners of the latest European championship were the surprising Greeks. The No. 1 pick in the previous draft was Italian Andrea Bargnani. Basketball is officially globalized.
Yet the U.S remains feared. Because the best players from the best league in the world have been assembled to try and reclaim previous standing, the national men's basketball team will always be the targeted favorites.
At the 2008 Olympics, reigning world champion Spain will remain an underdog against the United States. That's just how it is, and it will be right to designate the U.S. the team to beat for a few good reasons. Here are five positives to take away from the most recent expedition in Japan:
1. Kobe Bryant didn't participate: Believe it. If Kobe was on this World Championship squad, the United States would be coming home with the title. His outside shot and creativity would've woken the U.S. from its second-half slump against Greece when things got stagnant. He's the best offensive weapon in the world, and as long as he fits into the squad two years from now, the United States will win it all.
2. The U.S. tri-captains are young and hungry: Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James started for the United State against Argentina and set the tone for the victory. These guys might be somewhat inexperienced, but they love to play and get after it with the exuberance of youth. Dream Team aside, superstars tend to be bigger than these events, but you never felt that way with the current version. That starts at the top, with young talent eager to do things the right way.
3. Despite limited post play, the U.S. looked dominant: Quick, who did the U.S. go to for easy baskets in the post? Answer: No one. Chris Bosh, Elton Brand and Dwight Howard played well, but none of them have the refined post game necessary to succeed at the international level. Fortunately, they're expected to improve over the next couple of seasons, and will likely get a tag-team partner in 7-foot phenom Greg Oden.
4. Increased comfort level with one another, international rules: This team was in the first stage of its maturation process, so the players basically just got their feet wet. As a result, you started seeing them get more comfortable with their surroundings and one another. U.S. Olympic Team members will know where Joe Johnson likes the ball on the wing and have the savvy to consistently kill fast breaks with fouls at half court. All those little things make a difference.
5. Aging gracefully: Brad Miller was the elder statesman on the American squad, and most of the team has their best years ahead of them. As long as egos don't become a factor -- and with this current group that's not a great concern, given the quality of character on the squad -- the core of the American squad will grow up together.