September 2, 2006

Greek tragedy inspires U.S. to look forward

By Alastair Himmer

SAITAMA, Japan (Reuters) - Despite suffering a demoralizing
defeat by a brilliant Greece at the world basketball
championship, the United States are looking long-term.

The Americans' 101-95 loss in the Friday's semi-finals
ensured their six-year world and Olympic title drought would
continue for at least another two years.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics offers the next chance for
redemption for a U.S. team that no longer strikes fear into
opponents the way previous incarnations had.

"This is not the end of the road for us," Denver Nuggets
forward Carmelo Anthony told reporters.

"We've got players committed to the team for three years."

U.S. basketball director Jerry Colangelo echoed the
sentiment of the American team co-captain and promised that
their sights were firmly focused on 2008.

"Our goal is to win a gold medal in Beijing," he said. "We
learned a great deal at this tournament -- big time. We are not
throwing the baby out with the bathwater."

Colangelo added: "We knew the gap had really shrunk... but
this one hurts. We would have liked to have won this."


An irresistible force in the early rounds of the Japan
event, the U.S. stormed through the tournament with a perfect
7-0 record until they ran into an immovable object in Greece.

The European champions proved the tougher team down the
stretch to leave the American squad's collection of big-name
NBA players shell-shocked.

Anthony was one of few players to step up against Greece,
scoring 27 points, but outside shooting and some poor play from
the point let the U.S. down against a physical Greek defense.

"This is the beginning," said LeBron James, who wowed
Japanese crowds with his rim-shaking dunks but went missing
when it mattered most in the semi-final.

"We've got two more summers to grow. We've improved since
2004. We just need to make some adjustments."

In reality, the U.S. also need to run more set offenses and
add a legitimate center to the team after being out-muscled in
the paint by Greece.

The road back to the top is proving an arduous one for the
U.S. but Colangelo backed them to bounce back in Beijing.

"We have to go back to work and get ready for the (Olympic)
qualifying next summer," he said. "We love all of our guys.
It's part of the learning process."