If there is one gold medal expectation at the Beijing Olympics, it rests with the men’s basketball team. All members of that team are professional basketball stars. The head coach, Mike Krzyzewski, has a stellar, legendary college record. However, the days of American dominance in basketball are gone, as foreign players have improved their hoops skills. Nevertheless, the American men’s basketball team are expected to dominate and win gold. Anything less would be considered a failure.
Other nations know that the Americans can be beaten. At the world championships in 2002, the USA finished sixth. At the 2006 world championships, the USA improved to a third place finish. And at the last Olympic Games, the USA men’s team won the bronze medal. So that gold medal expectation will involve overcoming some obstacles of international basketball. Three of the major challenges are:
- zone defense – The teams that the USA men’s team will face know that they are at a disadvantage playing man-to-man defense. That is not their strength. The advantage in playing the American professionals will be a disciplined zone defense. This approach will allow the lower percentage long range shots. However, the zone defense will attempt to stop drives to the basket and limit the high percentage shots. The US team will need reliable shooting from long range to draw out the defense and allow the guard to find the seams in the zone. The long range accuracy will be essential.
- the officiating – The American professionals are used to NBA officiating. The international game is different and is officiated differently. There will not be the deference to the superstars that each one on the American team experiences in the professional game. There will simply be fouls that will not be called. That must be expected and composure maintained. It will be problematic if the Americans lose their focus because the international game is refereed in a different manner.
- size – Despite being all elite players from the NBA, the basketball team going to Beijing is small by international standards. Again, that will put more emphasis on the long shot. However, the rebounders for the American team must work for position. The international teams will count on their size for a rebounding difference, on both ends of the court.
And finally, with parity in the international game, there is still some distinction in beating the American professionals. The game against the Americans is the game that other teams want to win. The Americans are still ‘Goliath’; and the other teams will see themselves as ‘David’ and wanting do whatever it takes to beat the American powerhouse.
The Americans have the best players. There is no doubt about their individual skills. The best team is yet to be determined.