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Jittery U.S. Team Defeats Turkey, 80-68

August 11, 2004|From Associated Press

ISTANBUL, Turkey — After awakening to news of bombings in this ancient city, the U.S. Olympic basketball team decided to play on.

And by the time the Americans finished an 80-68 victory over Turkey on Tuesday in front of a jeering and whistling crowd, they pronounced themselves ready for Athens -- but still jittery from the events of an anxious day.

The Americans' final Olympic tuneup was similar to many others during an up-and-down tour through Europe. They were unable to dominate an opponent that figured to be vastly overmatched, but they got the job done in the end.

What made this day different was a major off-the-court event that tested their focus.

The team learned early in the morning that bombs had exploded at two tourist hotels and a fuel depot a few miles from their hotel, but team and U.S. government officials reassured them it would be safe to go ahead with the game.

"I don't know that everybody is absolutely confident and secure with everything, but they said everything would be fine, so you have to keep going on," Tim Duncan said.

And so they did. After failing to shake Turkey for three quarters, the U.S. team hit its stride in the fourth quarter -- but not before the crowd gave them an earful.

The play that turned the fans against them came when LeBron James swiped at the ball and hit Turkey guard Ibrahim Kutluay in the eye. Kutluay, who scored 26 points, lay writhing on the floor before walking off. He eventually returned.

Another Turkish player went down moments later, and the whistles and shrieks from the crowd reached earsplitting levels whenever the Americans had the ball thereafter.

"This is part of the game. I think it was the right answer from the fans, and they'll see it in Greece too," said Turkey center Mehmet Okur, who played with the Detroit Pistons last season and is now with the Utah Jazz. "It's much different in Europe. It's not like the NBA."

Duncan was 12 for 14 from the field and led the U.S. team with 25 points and 11 rebounds.

Team officials first learned of the bombings at 5 a.m. local time, and were briefed two hours later by their security coordinators and a State Department official from the U.S. consulate. Players were informed of what had happened just before their morning meeting, and families of the players traveling with the team received a briefing as well.

"They gave us intelligence that gave us a certain comfort level. The State Department official reiterated this was not targeted at American or Western interests, and it was something that is not atypical of what happens in Turkey," USA Basketball Executive Director Jim Tooley said.

No serious consideration was given to canceling or postponing the game, Tooley said.

"We all were a little uneasy about it because most of the guys had family here," U.S. Coach Larry Brown said. "People here handled it great. They made us feel pretty secure. We knew when the schedule was made that there had been some incidents here, but everybody wanted to come."

Security was tightened at the Turkish team's hotel, with barriers blocking the main entrance and guards searching bags.

Similar measures had already been in place at the U.S. team's hotel.



On the Move

The U.S. men's basketball team finished 5-1 on its pre-Olympic tour by defeating Turkey for the second time in three days:

*--* Date Opponent Results 8/10 Turkey W 80-68 8/8 Turkey W 79-67 8/6 Serbia and Montenegro W 78-60 8/4 Germany W 80-77 8/3 Italy L 95-78 7/31 Puerto Rico W 96-71


Leading scorers (minimum five games): Tim Duncan (17.7), Allen Iverson (12.6), Carmelo Anthony (9.2), Shawn Marion (7.2).

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