Fans and folks involved in basketball in the United States must understand just how crucial it is that the Redeem Team follows through and completes its mission initiated four years ago. Yes, the players want to stand atop the winners’ podium with medals around their necks and make a statement to rest of the world that they are indeed the hardwood superpower.
The underlying ambition, however, extends much further than that particular image of celebration and accomplishment. The pressure is great -- not as overwhelming as Yao Ming’s imposed calling that places more than one billion bodies on his back -- but heavy as in win or go home…a loss with the latter could force one to eventually succumb to a resulting sorry state of basketball at the premier levels.
The elite minds are worried about the evolution of the sport. Could basketball in the States enter into a recession as well? The leaders of basketball met in September 2006 and this past April to discuss the development (or malnutrition) of youth basketball. On another day, Coach Stan Van Gundy voiced his concerns about the lack of fundamentals and extreme emphasis on winning in this country at the lower levels.
The rise of street ball, with all of its mayhem, music, and magnetism, has capitalized on the artistry and popularity of hoops, yet struggled to convey the importance of working on form shooting, setting up curls and fades, and defending the pick and roll.
AAU, in many instances, could stand for Anyone After Underdevelopment, as many fathers-and-fans-now-coaches aim their sights on sponsors, traveling to Florida and Vegas, and acting as agents that claim to be friends with all of the top colleges.
To add to the complexity, high school superstar Brandon Jennings will live in Europe before I even get to travel there again. And Josh Childress has taken flight via a sweet overseas deal after playing for the Atlanta Hawks (and working out at MIT). There exists a true threat of talent migrating for the winter -- only the direction is not south.
Players are not considering leaving -- they are leaving.
The twelve athletes in Beijing now represent the highest hope to not simply take back the gold, but maintain what the US, thankfully, still does have: exciting college basketball. Otherwise, the game will gradually breakdown like an unstable press break. And the conditions could worsen. Forget establishing “40 minutes of hell”– how about 12 months of how to improve?
If the US Olympic Team does indeed reclaim success in the spotlight on the grandest stage, at least it will be accomplished with players and coaches who believe in development. The pressure remains, but anything short of gold is much more troublesome.