Sports

Team USA: Basketball resurgence

After a disappointing third-place finish at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, it was clear that the rest of the world had caught up with Team USA’s basketball prowess. The “Redeem Team” re-established the United States’ success by taking gold in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. One week ago, USA Basketball completed a full comeback by winning the 2010 FIBA (International Basketball Federation) World Basketball Championship in Turkey. It was the first FIBA World Championship won by the U.S. since 1994. Even with an entirely different group of players from the Beijing ’08 team, Team USA shined in Turkey, winning many of their games in blowout fashion. With the championship, USA Basketball clearly asserted itself as the best international team and a powerful favorite for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

The story from this year’s FIBA World Championship was that of domination from a youthful Team USA. Team USA had seven players on its roster under 24, and no players on the team were part of the 2008 Olympic gold medal-winning squad. The U.S. was led by 21-year-old Oklahoma City Thunder player Kevin Durant, who averaged a team-high 22.8 points per game. Other young stars included Durant’s Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon of the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose — all 21-year-olds who were third, fourth, and fifth on the team in scoring, respectively. The U.S. got its veteran leadership from the Denver Nuggets’ Chauncey Billups (age 33) and Los Angeles Lakers’ Lamar Odom (30). Billups was second on the team in scoring, with 9.8 points per game, and Odom led the team in rebounds with 7.7 per game. With its good leaders and blooming young crop of players, Team USA surpassed most expectations.

The U.S. went undefeated in pool play at the FIBA Championship, and then moved through the tournament of 16 to win the title. They won almost every game in a commanding way, with only two games closer than 10 points at the finish. They defeated host country Turkey, led by the Phoenix Suns’ Hedo Turkoglu, by 17 points in the championship game. Once again in the championship game, the U.S. was led by their young stars, who showed that Team USA will be a powerhouse for years to come. According to ESPN.com, President of USA Basketball Jerry Colangelo said about the championship, “It’s a great tribute to a young group of guys and some veteran leadership who really stepped up … and a great thing for USA Basketball because it got us over the hump.”

Durant was the player showing the most promise for the future of USA Basketball. He led the NBA in scoring this season with 30.1 points per game and almost took his Oklahoma City Thunder team past eventual champion L.A. Lakers in the playoffs. It is no longer fitting to categorize Durant as a budding young star, as he has established himself as one of the best players in the NBA and in the world. He had 28 points (including seven three-pointers) in the FIBA Championship game and won MVP of the tournament. This led ESPN.com writer Chris Sheridan to describe him as, “one of the most unstoppable forces on the planet.” Durant, however, could not have done it without his fellow teammates, many of whom, including Westbrook, Gordon, and Rose, are young enough to participate in two or three more Olympics and FIBA Championships.

Team USA’s 2010 world championship team was initially described as a ‘B’-grade team because of lack of international experience and star power. But this young group of players proved everyone wrong and played to itspotential in the FIBA tournament, becoming stars in the process. These players will still have to fight for spots on the 2012 Olympic Team with the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, but this summer they were able to regain USA Basketball’s international excellence and show that Team USA will be dominant for years to come.for years to come.