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Youthful zeal (continued)

Posted: Tuesday August 22, 2006 10:58AM; Updated: Tuesday August 22, 2006 12:20PM
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The negatives still abound. Their perimeter defense is lousy, having shown the barest of improvement in six international showings thus far. They tend to overpass, a trait forged in years of AAU ball and innumerable bouts of exhibition play. The players have so much respect for each other's talents that they can't help but find the open man and pass up a chance to nail the easiest and most obvious look. By the way, Team USA's average age is 24.

That youth, however, makes this team unpredictable. Fears still remain that it could be trounced by Italy (Wednesday's opponent) or Argentina (if they meet in an elimination round). In fact, it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if either of those veteran outfits thrashed Team USA by 20. Yet it also wouldn't surprise me if the U.S. produces its most decisive conquest in the face of its biggest challenge.

So there is potential doom and gloom -- and there is also potential for this team to someday match the podium accomplishments of the 1992 team. For now, with a bunch of fresh (albeit talented) faces, the results may not always be pretty.

But it's not fair to compare this team to that 1992 roster, which was filled with players either in or on the outskirts of their prime. They saw things on the court that the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Carmelo Anthony troika won't see for years. That's the difference between a 31-year-old at the top of his profession and a 24-year-old at the top of his profession.

This team is hardly going to be sailing on the seas of smooth, because basketball outfits made up of 20-to-25-year-olds usually end up as less than the sum of their parts. The sum of these parts should be enough to win the World Championship, but it won't be pretty, and it won't look revelatory.

But they are trying. Their footwork isn't perfect, but they move those feet and try to cause turnovers. Their passing isn't pinpoint, but they share the ball and keep everyone's shooting hands warm.

More than any international representative save for the 1998 USA team (from which Brad Miller is the lone holdover), these players have subjugated their own egos for the group ideal -- not out of necessity or for the TV stage, but just because these are a bunch of swell kids who don't know any better.