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Misplaced confidence (cont.)

Posted: Thursday August 17, 2006 1:05PM; Updated: Thursday August 17, 2006 1:28PM
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But the Brazilian team has been playing together for years, as have most of the other teams that will be playing in the World Championship. That's an advantage the U.S. can't match yet, unless it decides to send the NBA champions to international competitions. (Which is not the worst idea, by the way. But seeing as how Shaquille O'Neal would as soon picnic with Kobe Bryant than participate, that isn't going to happen.)

The U.S. did take some positive steps in the assembling of its roster. That is, of course, until effective international players such as Chauncey Billups (ball-handling, decision-making), J.J. Redick (shooting) and Michael Redd (more shooting) all bowed out. The team's best outside threat now is a guy (Kirk Hinrich) who was on the bubble two weeks ago and was a late addition to begin with. Even more puzzling, Krzyzewski inexplicably sent Bruce Bowen back to the States on Wednesday -- does Team USA think superb defenders and deadly spot-up shooters are so easy to come by?

Certainly there will be some highs, especially in preliminary play. Beginning Saturday, the U.S. will play in Group D, a field that includes welterweights Slovenia, Senegal and Puerto Rico. That's a far sight better than having to run the gantlet of Group A: Argentina (the defending gold medallists from the 2004 Olympics), France (featuring Boris Diaw and Tony Parker) and Serbia & Montenegro.

Root for the USA. Cheer them from afar. But don't let your enthusiasm cloud your logic. Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni still play for Argentina. Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro have been playing together in Spain for years. Parker, Diaw and Ronny Turiaf have been playing for France for even longer. The U.S. losing this tournament -- or even failing to medal -- won't be as big a surprise as winning it.

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