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USA basketball team has only one option

  |   July 23, 2008 at 8:06 AM
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BEIJING, July 24 (UPI) -- When it comes to U.S. Olympic basketball, it is no longer about extending a streak.

It is now all about pride. And perhaps some revenge.

The field for this year's Olympic men's basketball tournament contains the team that won the gold medal four years ago. That would be Argentina.

It also includes the current world champion, which would be Spain. Also present will be the team that eliminated the United States from the gold medal running in the 2006 world championship tournament. That would be Greece.

Yes, the Americans will be present as well. But until proven otherwise, Team USA has become just another hopeful among those fighting for Olympic supremacy.

The difference this time is that the United States has a huge chip on its shoulder and, perhaps, has the players on hand to do something about it.

Amateur players from the United States won the first 62 Olympic basketball games they played. That streak ended in controversial fashion in the gold medal game of the 1972 Games. Although the United States cried foul when the Soviet Union won in Munich, the Americans had to stage a big rally to defeat Brazil earlier in those Olympics and had almost lost to Puerto Rico four years earlier in Mexico City.

When American NBA players joined the team in 1992, the United States enjoyed a streak of 24 consecutive wins leading up to the Athens Olympics. But in the opening game of that tournament, Puerto Rico routed Team USA 92-73.

The Americans lost three times in Athens but managed to earn a bronze medal with a 104-96 victory over Lithuania.

There were reports that USA Basketball, the governing body for the sport when it comes to international competition, had to ask 30 different players to join the Olympic team for Athens before a squad could finally be put together.

For Beijing, it has been a different story.

"I asked if there was any room (on the team)," said Jason Kidd, the only member of this year's American squad who has been on a gold medal winning Olympic team. "I believe in this group. We can have a lot of success."

This year's American team will include the player who led the NBA in scoring last year -- LeBron James. It will also contain the player who led the NBA in rebounding last year -- Dwight Howard. Chris Paul paced the NBA in both steals and assists. He will be on the team, too.

Kobe Bryant, who can take over a contest at a moment's notice, will be on the roster. And so will Dwayne Wade. It is little wonder that Kidd wanted to be a member of that group.

There will be stars scattered throughout the rosters when the teams gather for the start of the Olympic tournament on Aug. 10.

Manu Ginobili will try to lead Argentina to its second straight gold medal. Yao Ming, having recovered from an injury that cut short his 2007-08 NBA season, will try to clog up the middle for China. Andrei Kirilenko will be in uniform for Russia.

But no team has the depth and overall skill level possessed by the United States. Or so it would seem.

To get the most out of this group, USA Basketball brought in a coach who is famed for getting the most out of his players -- Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University.

The obvious strength of the American team is that it has massive star power. The chief perceived weakness is that the squad is short on pure shooting, a trait most European teams have up and down the roster.

It all begins on Aug. 10 with the host Chinese facing the Americans in the final game of the night -- one that begins at 10:15 a.m. EDT. During the following week, the United States will play Angola, Greece, Spain and Germany.

Team USA will need to finish fourth or better from that six-team group to make the quarterfinals but the goal will be to go unbeaten.

Once the knockout stage begins, it is either win or go home without a gold medal. For this American Olympic team, there is only one option.

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