I flipped the TV on ESPN last night to watch the FIBA Americas Championship Tournament. I wanted to see how well the number one ranked Team USA was doing in its ongoing mission to return the Olympic gold medal in basketball back to the birthplace of the sport.
The FIBA Americas Tournament started in Las Vegas on August 22 with the top ten teams in the FIBA Americas Zone competing for spots in the Olympics. In addition to Team USA, the defending 2004 Athens Olympic champion Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Venezuela and the US Virgin Islands are also there. The tournament will run through September 2.
The winner and runner-up qualify for the Beijing Games next summer. Third through fifth place get a last chance shot to qualify for Beijing in a July 2008 World Olympic Qualifying Tournament FIBA tournament that will be conducted before the opening of the Games August 8.
Well, so far so good for Team USA. They went 4-0 in Group B play by beating down the Brazilians 113-76. That Brazilian team has Leandro Barbosa of the Phoenix Suns, (this tournament's leading scorer averaging 27 points per game) Carmelo Anthony's Denver Nuggets teammate Nene Hilario, and Marcus De Souza of the New Orleans Hornets on it. Kobe Bryant put the defensive clamps on Barbosa and held him to 4 points on 1 for 7 shooting.
They have cruised so far in this tournament. They beat Uruguay 112-69, the US Virgin Islands 123-59 and Canada 113-63. Coach K has Team USA playing suffocating defense, hitting threes, cleaning the glass and playing solid fundamental basketball.
The hitting threes part is especially critical in FIBA play since the three point line is two feet shorter than the 23 foot NBA line. The lack of consistent three point shooting is why we've gotten our butts whipped in international play on the men's side since 2000. It's a major reason why three point gunners extraordinaire Michael Redd and Mike Miller are on the squad.
They start off the quarterfinal round by playing the Nolan Richardson coached Mexican team tomorrow.