washingtonpost.com  > Sports > Leagues and Sports > Olympics > 2004 > Sport-by-Sport > Men's Basketball

Not the Medal of Their Dreams

But the U.S. Men Give a Full Effort, Rally to Take Home Consolation Bronze : United States 104, Lithuania 96

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 29, 2004; Page E11

ATHENS, Aug. 28 -- The U.S. men's basketball team -- as it turns out, the source of more consternation in Athens than transportation, traffic or terrorism -- righted things a bit Saturday night, as much as they could be righted after an unprecedented two weeks in which it lost more games than it had in its Olympic history.

Yet Team USA's 104-96 victory over Lithuania -- a win that gave the U.S. men the bronze medal, and ensured they wouldn't go home empty-handed for the first time -- wasn't even 30 minutes old when players, coaches and USA Basketball officials were discussing how to prevent this from happening again.


After a tumultuous two-week tournament, the U.S. men's basketball team comes together after winning bronze. "We wanted gold," Shawn Marion said. (Michael Conroy -- AP)

_____ Day 16 _____
 Olympics
The U.S. women's basketball team beats Australia to win the gold medal.
The U.S. men's basketball team salvages bronze.
The United States will take home the most medals for the third consecutive Summer Games.
Moracco's Hiram El Guerrouj gets a historic double in track and field.
Mia Hamm will carry the American flag during Closing Ceremonies.
American Steven Lopez overcomes hostile crowd to win taekwondo gold.
Sailors John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree win silver in Tornados.
American Cael Sanderson wins gold in freestyle wrestling.
A Hungarian weightlifter is stripped of a silver medal.
Argentina wins the men's soccer gold medal, 1-0, over Paraguay.
France's Julien Absalon wins the mountain bike race.

_____ More From The Post _____
Sally Jenkins: Dawn Staley epitomizes the U.S. women's basketball team.
Michael Wilbon: U.S. track and field is experiencing a youth movement.
Mike Wise: Tim Duncan may never want to play internationally again.

___ Saturday's Medals Results ___
Athletics
Men's 800
Men's 5,000
Men's 4 X 100 relay
Men's 4 X 400 relay
Men's javelin
Women's 1,500
Women's 4 X 400 relay
Women's high jump
Basketball
Men
Women
Boxing
51kg
57kg
64kg
75kg
91kg
Canoe-Kayak (Flatwater)
Men's kayak singles 500
Men's canoe singles 500
Men's kayak doubles 500
Men's canoe doubles 500
Women's kayak singles 500
Women's kayak doubles 500
Cycling (Mountain Bike)
Men
Diving
Men
Gymnastics (Rhythmic)
Team
Sailing
Tornado
Men's star
Soccer
Men
Taekwondo
Men's under 80kg
Women's under 67kg
Volleyball
Women
Wrestling (Freestyle)
Men's 55kg
Men's 66kg
Men's 84kg
Men's 120kg

_____ Photos _____
Day 16
Gold medal fans
Photo galleries page

_____Free E-mail Newsletters_____
• Redskins
• News Headlines
• News Alert

The problem? No one had easy answers.

"How do we do it?" USA Basketball Senior National Team Committee Chair Stu Jackson asked. "I don't know if we can."

That, Jackson said, is a four-year project, where everything about the team -- how it is selected, how long it trains together, what it is taught, when it assembles -- will be looked at straight-on, sideways, and from every conceivable angle, because this tournament showed that basketball is a global game, and the United States, as odd as it sounds, has some catching up to do.

"The way that the 'Dream Team' did, or the team in '96," Jackson said, "those days are gone."

Argentina reminded Team USA of that, first by beating the Americans in the semifinals, then by thumping Italy for the gold medal, an 84-69 victory that featured 25 points from Luis Scola and more efficient play from guard Manu Ginobli, the star of the tournament. The win for the Argentines -- which left them kissing their gold medals on the podium afterward -- marked the first time a country other than the United States or the old Soviet Union took the gold in men's basketball.

However distressing folks at home find all that has happened here -- the United States won five games and lost three -- it is only fair to give credit where it's due. On Saturday night, in an Olympic Indoor Hall that was preparing more for the gold medal game that followed, the United States showed some class in dismissing Lithuania, to which it had already lost earlier in this tournament.

"People questioned us from the beginning," forward Richard Jefferson said, "talking trash about us, talking all kinds of crap about our team, and do we care, and do we play together. There was not one game out there where we didn't play together. . . . We were the ultimate professionals tonight, coming out and playing with an extreme amount of passion to get it done."

Lithuania, one of the most talented teams in the tournament, wasn't going to make that easy. With a ridiculous barrage of three-pointers -- again highlighting another theme of this tournament, that international players shoot far better than Americans -- the Lithuanians pulled to a 56-52 lead midway through the third quarter. Leading the way was floppy-haired guard Arvydas Macijauskas, who buried seven of Lithuania's 21 three-pointers.

"That's the way they play over here," U.S. Coach Larry Brown said.

But even in their final game, some U.S. players still hadn't figured out precisely how the international game -- run by its governing body, FIBA -- is played. Center Tim Duncan, an absolute force with the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, again ran into foul trouble. Duncan never learned how to seal a defender in the post without drawing a whistle, and despite the team's turnaround, he will leave Greece frustrated by his first Olympic experience.

"Let me say it nicely," Duncan said. "It's not been fun."

Then Duncan, who added that he was "95 percent sure my FIBA career is over," was asked if he had learned anything.

"FIBA [stinks]," he said. "I'm sorry. I had to say that."

With Duncan bottled up -- he scored just six points -- someone else had to win it for the Americans. Shawn Marion of the Phoenix Suns responded by scoring 22 points, including a pair of three-pointers despite his atrocious-looking jump shot. One came with five minutes left and put the United States up 87-82, part of a 14-6 run that also featured a key jumper from guard Allen Iverson.

"For the most part, we knew the guards could shoot," said Lithuania's Sarunas Jasikevicius, the former Maryland Terrapin. "But Shawn Marion didn't shoot the ball all tournament like he did today. These guys improved every game. Eventually, they were going to shoot better than they shot in the first couple of games. And they did -- unfortunately, for us."

So as they awaited their time on the medal stand, the American players were able to talk about how they had improved since the day -- July 26 -- when they first got together. But they also discussed the changes that must be made.

Brown said he would like to see a standard set of rules for both the NBA and international ball, which has a shorter three-point line, more zone defense, stricter officiating and games that are eight minutes shorter. Jackson said he thinks the time the team trains together is "the pressure point," though Iverson said that shouldn't be an excuse.

The overall sense afterward? Somewhere, in the bottom of all those emotions, there was some relief. Relief that they won the bronze. And relief that it's over.

"We wanted gold," Marion said. "But I'm going to take anything right now. That's the way it is."


© 2004 The Washington Post Company