After Rout, U.S. Looks To Greece

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 13, 2008

BEIJING, Aug. 12 -- With oversize headphones resting atop his head, Carmelo Anthony tried to play down the U.S. men's basketball rematch against Greece, saying that it doesn't compare to the emotional Olympic opener against China, a game he described as the "greatest sporting event in history."

But as he spoke, Anthony started rubbing his belly, unable to hide his hunger to avenge America's only loss in 21 international games since Jerry Colangelo took over the national program three years ago.

The Redeem Team was created to bring back a gold medal after eight years of international setbacks, and Thursday's game against Greece will serve as the team's first true step toward redemption for Anthony, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the other five members of the Olympic squad that lost in the 2006 world championships in Japan.

"I don't think LeBron is going to get any sleep," Anthony said. "They've been talking about this game since [training camp in Las] Vegas. I'm going to get some sleep, but I'll tell you what: That's the game I got marked on my calendar. It's been circled on my calendar for two years -- since we left Japan."

More than eight hours before the United States beat Angola, 97-76, on Tuesday, Coach Mike Krzyzewski and assistants Mike D'Antoni, Nate McMillan and Jim Boeheim were at Wukesong Indoor Stadium scouting Greece against Germany and developing a strategy. The previous time the teams met, the Greeks pulled a 101-95 upset and celebrated by wrapping their arms around one another and dancing at center court.

"You never forget," forward Chris Bosh said. "We want to get them back. We were really young, and I think a lot of us have grown and matured since then, and gotten stronger."

The Americans had barnstormed throughout Asia in the summer of 2006, gathering hordes of adoring fans and winning in lopsided fashion -- until they met Greece in the semifinals. The United States led by 12 points before the Greeks figured out a glaring weakness. After running the pick-and-roll to perfection, Greece Coach Panagiotis Giannakis kept hitting the repeat button, with Theodoros Papaloukas slicing up the Americans for 12 assists, and 300-plus pound big man Sofoklis Schortsanitis punishing them inside for 14 points.

"We didn't make an adjustment," Anthony said. "By the time we realized we had to make an adjustment, the game was over."

Since the team convened in Las Vegas for training camp this summer, Krzyzewski has spent most of the practices working on defending the pick-and-roll. The first two blowout wins against China and Angola didn't provide much opportunity to put that training to work, because those teams lacked the point guards and big men capable of breaking down the defense.

"We're ready for it," James said. "I'll show you on Thursday how ready I am."

On Tuesday, the coaches scribbled on their tablets and exchanged notes, observing how Greece neutralized Germany's two NBA players, Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman, with physical play; how it still thrived in pick-and-roll sets; and even how the Greeks struggled against a zone defense during an 87-64 win.

"Same team as a couple of years ago," D'Antoni said, "but they are stronger; they are better. We know we have to play real hard. I think guys have their minds in the right spot, and they are ready to roll."

Kobe Bryant is the only member of the team to watch Greece play in Beijing, as he caught the team's loss to Spain on Sunday. Bryant wasn't part of the team that lost in 2006, but he is expecting the players who were in Japan to be highly motivated.

"I'll just try to step back and let them do their thing," Bryant said. "If push comes to shove, and we're struggling, then the Mamba will come out."

Bryant likely will be assigned to Greek shooting guard Vasileios Spanoulis, a 6-foot-4 player who torched the United States for 22 points in the world championships. Spanoulis, who had 23 points against Germany, is Greece's leading scorer in the Olympics. Spanoulis smiled when asked if he expects to have Bryant guard him.

"It would be a great motivation for me," Spanoulis said.

The loss to Greece helped the United States in a roundabout way because it forced the Americans to earn an Olympic berth last summer at the FIBA Americas championship in Las Vegas, where Bryant, Jason Kidd, Michael Redd, Deron Williams and Tayshaun Prince had time to establish chemistry with James, Anthony and Dwight Howard.

"It's tough to say, but losing does always build character, whether you like it or not," Bosh said. "We definitely learned from that game. We have an opportunity to show people, in our next game, how much we've really improved."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company