LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- There were some expressions of concern when the USA men's basketball team trailed by 10 early to Brazil in its last exhibition before heading to Europe for more pre-Olympics tune-ups. With 4 1/2 minutes left, the Americans led by only 7 and the game was still in doubt, hardly something to which American basketball teams are accustomed.
The U.S. rallied behind 30 points from LeBron James to win 80-69 before a Washington, D.C., crowd that included the President of the United States, but clearly, this is a team with a good bit of work ahead of it.
And that's good.
With all of the injuries that coach Mike Krzyzewski has had to deal with in putting this team together, this was going to have to be a team that needed a heavy dose of hard work -- and teamwork -- even if it still has a glamor lineup.
Monday's exhibition should underscore that for the U.S. players. The half-court offense was suspect at times. They made just 1 of 12 three-point tries in the first half. Brazil outrebounded the U.S. 38-30.
Krzyzewski said this is not a team that is prone to be overconfident, and that, too, is good.
"I don't think our team needs to be humbled," Krzyzewski said. "I think they are. I mean, they're not going on the court thinking no one else is going to show up against them."
After Brazil's early run, Krzyzewski told his team that its answers would be found on defense. Players echoed that after the game. It's a lesson they'll need to remember.
And nobody should forget this -- James is the centerpiece of this team, the foundation. Krzyzewski saved his most glowing praise for James, telling reporters after the game, "I think LeBron is not just a great player; LeBron's a great competitor. When he goes to the basket, he doesn't get the call even when he finishes because he's so strong. He goes through contact. His will to win was the most inspiring thing that we had on our team. It was a very, very competitive game by our best player."
Former UK star Anthony Davis did not play.
"Yeah, Anthony's a young guy. In a game like this, he's ten years younger than any of those big guys he's playing against. He's going to be a terrific player. I think the experience of being with this team as we move along as he gets accustomed, we have three more exhibition games, and five games of pool play. By medal round, I don't know what type of experience playing time-wise he'll get, but he'll get a lot of experience just being with this team. Remember, he's just been with us a couple of days. He doesn't even know all the sets and that. But our emphasis is not on him. It's on the guys who are going to play the majority of minutes." Krzyzewski wisely will play a solid exhibition schedule. The team will face Britain in Manchester, England on Thursday and will face both Argentina and Spain in Barcelona.
This is a team that should win gold. But the biggest games should not be boring. The world is always taking aim, but it should be fun to watch as this talented American team takes shape. There may be no such intrigue for the women's team. Think about this. The team is so deep that former University of Louisville All-American Angel McCoughtry, the WNBA's No. 2 scorer, comes off the bench -- in part because of a knee sprain that sidelined her for a time in the WNBA. McCoughtry missed a dunk late in the 99-67 pummeling of Brazil last night, but the American team didn't miss much else.
Auriemma called the dunk try "comic relief," joking after the game, "Angel's knee is fine. Angel's knee is fine. Her hands are fine. Her ankles are good. Her arms and shoulders are good. As you move up that ladder, things don't become so good. That was the lamest attempt at a dunk I've ever seen in my life, and I embellish things a little bit, but I'm not embellishing things."
Playing without Sue Bird, who has left the team after the death of her stepfather, the Americans still toyed with Brazil, cranking up major defensive pressure on the perimeter early. The U.S. forced 29 turnovers, and in the absence of Bird, Lindsay Whalen stepped in to score 21 points.
The team hadn't played together in two months and really had only practiced recently over the weekend, with its players in the midst of a WNBA schedule that only recently took off for the Olympic break. So It took until the second quarter for it to pull away from Brazil. But it did pull away, getting 43 points off the bench as coach Geno Auriemma tinkered.
It's going to be a case of the U.S. women finding a team identity on the fly. But that should be little problem. Unlike with the men, a number of American women, McCoughtry among them, play in European pro leagues when the WNBA season is over. They're familiar with European travel, international competition, and should be poised to dominate.
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