Superior talents

Anthony L. Cuaycong

Posted on August 23, 2016

As expected, the United States claimed its third consecutive Olympic gold medal in men’s basketball yesterday. The match was essentially over at the half, by which time it managed to put up a 23-point lead over hapless Serbia on the strength of relentless pressure on both ends of the court; even as it once more failed to hit half its field goal attempts, it grabbed a whopping 20 offensive rebounds and, more importantly, held its opponent to 38.2% shooting all told. The result affirmed its preeminent standing after three close calls on the way to the finals, allowing head coach Mike Krzyzewski to leave the international hoops program on a high note.

To be sure, the result may well have been different had the US not been able to latch on to a winning formula it first employed in turning a poor quarterfinal-round start against Argentina into a rout; indeed, its vaunted Two Ds -- defense and the silky smooth touch of Kevin Durant -- were what it needed to assert its ascendancy in the final. It may have upended Serbia in the Group Phase by a mere three points, but it learned enough to apply pressure from the get-go and rely on superior athleticism to all but settle the outcome early.

The premise is, of course, sound; even with notable marquee names choosing to stay away from the Rio Games, the US boasted of superior talent heading into the tournament. What remained iffy was its capacity to translate individual prowess to team advancement, and, for a while there, it appeared that hero ball would spoil the party. Instead, Krzyzewski simplified his strategy; he made Durant the fixture and then surrounded the latter with outstanding defenders. If nothing else, it led to a keen understanding of the pecking order, one that paid dividends against Serbia yesterday. The four-time National Basketball Association scoring champion wound up playing the most and taking nearly twice as many shots as the next player in red, white, and blue, to unparalleled efficiency; it’s also no surprise that he finished at plus-38, the best of all those who suited up.

Moving forward, the hope for the US is that its tougher march to the top of the podium will spur the stars who stayed away to suit up for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In this regard, the entry of Gregg Popovich, who enjoys universal respect in the pro scene, could prove beneficial to recruitment. In any case, he will most definitely insist on more practice sessions, if only to counteract the sense of togetherness that everybody else casting a moist eye on gold has managed to ride to success. One day, the competition will get better and the loss will come anew, but, if he gets to have his way, not on his watch, and later rather than sooner.

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is the Senior Vice-President and General Manager of Basic Energy Corp.