Mon, September 23, 2013

Spain has confidence but U.S. has talent

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Kobe Bryant will lead Team USA in Olympic basketball at the London Games later this month. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Kobe Bryant, as the story goes, was walking through a hallway at the Target Center in Minneapolis when he noticed that Pau Gasol, his teammate on the Los Angeles Lakers, and Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio, Gasol's teammate on the Spanish side, were having a chat.

In a video posted by Marca.com, Bryant asked if they were talking about London and Rubio needled Bryant that the Lakers star would be coming home from the Olympics with a silver medal.

"S---. I'm taking bets!" Bryant replied. "If I win I get the keys of Barcelona."

"I bet what you want," Rubio replied.

Bravado on Rubio's part to be sure. The talented 21-year-old guard won't even be playing in London having torn his the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in March. However, there's no doubt the Spanish players feel confident heading into the London -- although they're by no means the favourites. The Americans continue to be the team to beat. They are, after all, the defending Olympic and world champions.

Any combination of players that USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo can put together is a stunningly talented squad. But the Spanish side is extremely talented in its own right, starting with the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc, and including present and former NBAers Jose Calderon of the Toronto Raptors, Juan Carlos Navarro and Rudy Fernandez. Spain lost to the U.S. for the gold in Beijing but won the world championship in 2006 and plays a solid team game.

"My expectations are high," Pau Gasol said in an interview with FIBA.com. "It will be a tough competition for everyone, but I'm looking forward to being in London. My teammates and I will fight for the gold medal. I think that we can win the tournament. We have a lot of talent and everyone will be very motivated to give it their all on the court. We're afraid of no one."

They should be afraid of the Americans. Every team in London should. Colangelo has put together yet another Dream Team and, nine games out of 10, they'd beat any other top team on the world stage. Even with the likes of Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose out with injuries, the American roster is incredibly deep -- the list including NBA superstars Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

Other teams in London will feature NBA players, including Argentina, France and Brazil, but none of them will have the depth and talent of the U.S. side. Still, anything as possible. At the 2004 Athens Games, the American team, including Wade, James, Tim Duncan and Carmelo Anthony, lost to Argentina in the semifinals and had to settle for bronze. It comes down to how well the American stars buy into the team concept. If they do, and play as a unit, they're largely unstoppable.

Canada failed to qualify for the third Olympics in a row -- largely because many of the nation's top players -- including Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash (now the men's national team general manager) and Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers -- did not play in the qualifying events. Nash, who was introduced as the new GM this spring, expressed confidence that the trend of the best players not playing for Canada will change, which is good news, considering the massive influx of young talent in Canadian hoops, including Thompson, Cory Joseph of the San Antonio Spurs, and Myck Kabongo to name a few.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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