The average age of the Olympians who make up the U.S. basketball team in Athens is just over 23. They are terrific athletes, exciting players who are
sure to have long and successful NBA careers. Their potential when it comes to international careers, however, is much different.
That's because, when it comes to international basketball, youth and athleticism are useless. You can break your man down on the perimeter? So what?
International teams play swarming zone defenses that ensure you'll have another man or two to beat once you get past your primary defender. You're a
raw big man with a powerful post game? So what? International teams are more accustomed to the rougher rules that govern tournaments, and with the
help of a wider lane, they'll pack in the defense to force big men out of the paint.
This is where the selection committee for Team USA has made its most consistent mistakes. In its rush to accumulate the best young players in the NBA,
the committee has overlooked a rich resource: the guys who are not so young.
If Team USA wants to get back to international prominence, the red, white and blue needs to add a little gray.
Team USA should fill half its team with veteran players who either are recently retired or at the ends of their NBA careers. The team needs smarts and
versatility, players willing to accept a five-man offense, set proper picks, move without the ball and work for a good shot. That's international
basketball. Forget individual athleticism.
We could pick a point guard from a pool of John Stockton, Mark Jackson or Avery Johnson. Who do you want at shooting guard, Dell Curry, Steve Kerr or
Steve Smith? Cliff Robinson, Danny Ferry or Kendall Gill at small forward? Scott Williams, Karl Malone or Horace Grant at power forward? How about
David Robinson, Kevin Willis or Sean Rooks at center?
Sound like a team of has-beens who would need FIBA's permission to take their walkers onto the court? Good. That's how it should be.
Something happens as NBA players get older. They become smarter. When the physical gifts players have in their 20s decline, players rely on their
mental gifts. Those who still are effective into their 30s are getting by as much on brains and experience as on ability.
There are advantages to using veteran players. The ones who already have retired could begin working out together long before July, when the current
American team begins its practices. And veterans -- retired or not -- would be much better schooled in fundamentals and would work together better
than the younger players. Everyone would be able to pass, hit a jumper, box out, set picks and understand team defense. That's how you win
That's just where USA Basketball should start. It also should earmark spots for another untapped resource: Americans who were not quite good enough
for the NBA but have become stars in Europe. UCLA alum Tyus Edney, for example, is one of the best European league point guards. Michigan's Maceo
Baston is one of Europe's best power forwards. Bradley's Anthony Parker is an outstanding shooting guard.
These guys play their regular seasons against the world's stars. They know the foreign players, the foreign refs and the foreign rules that baffle
Team USA. Why not add some of them to the Olympic team?
Round out the 12-man roster with willing and versatile players from the NBA -- Tim Duncan, Lamar Odom and Shawn Marion from the current team. And how
about non-Olympians Rasheed Wallace, Brent Barry and Michael Redd?
The exciting young players in the league will be stars -- they'll sell sneakers and soda; they'll make
All-Star teams and win playoff games. Eventually. But if Team USA is interested in winning gold medals, it should try doing it with graybeards.
Sean Deveney is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.