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ATHENS 2004

U.S. Still Doesn't Ace Test

Men's basketball team trails by 12 points twice in the first half before using a late fourth-quarter surge to beat Australia, 89-79.

August 20, 2004|Bill Dwyre | Los Angeles Times

ATHENS — There were signs here Thursday that the students are starting to pay attention. Sure, they still get restless for recess, but some of the things their teacher, Mr. Larry Brown, is writing on the blackboard are starting to seep through.

It showed when Brown's class, the U.S. men's basketball team, won its second consecutive game, defeating Australia, 89-79.

There were times when their minds wandered, when they stood around and watched Australia cut them up with a two-man game off a high pick-and-roll that freed up enough three-point shots for Australia to build two 12-point leads in the first half, at 31-19 and 45-33.

But in the end, most of them figured it out.

Tim Duncan was the game's top scorer with 18 points. When his teammates remembered to pass him the ball, remembered that he is 7 feet tall and is, as teammate LeBron James said, "the best player in the world" -- then the U.S. team did well.

The player guarding the best player in the world was a 19-year-old named Andrew Bogut, who is three inches shorter than Duncan and was playing in only his sixth international game. Bogut, who will be a sophomore at Utah this season, had a fine game, scoring 11 points and taking down eight rebounds. But near the end of the fourth quarter, Duncan dunked in Bogut's face. That made the score 77-70 and seemed to awaken the U.S. team, which ran it out to 87-72 in the next four minutes.

Brown's other star pupil Thursday was James, who had eight assists, seven in the second half when the U.S. took control of the game.

James sat with Brown at a table in the interview room after the game and said, "Tim Duncan is the best player in the world, and there is something wrong if we don't get the ball to him."

He added: "We know that every team is going to play a zone against us, and we have been working hard on that in practice. We know that we have to find that crease, we have to learn how to make two people guard one. We know that if it is a zone, we have to attack it."

Brown, who has been preaching the doctrine of team over talent for about a month now, smiled.

"The moment we step onto the floor here, we have to understand that the other teams are better, that the coaching from around the world is better, that the passion for the sport around the world is better," Brown said. "I see the passion of these other teams here, I watch them warm up and how together they are and how they are with each other. They've got basketball players, we have athletes. I can only hope our players are starting to see that and understand it."

He was asked if he thought he now had all the players' attention. "We don't quite have them all yet," he said, referring to 20-year-old Carmelo Anthony, who played only two minutes against Australia. Brown said that he hoped and expected Anthony to start understanding and that often, "The light goes on."

Speaking more generally, Brown added, "A lot of these guys never have been coached, never sat on the bench, never had a role to play other than the star who scores all the points.

"My biggest job is to get them to understand that coaching is just coaching, not criticism. I have to be relentless in coaching them, whether they want it or not."

The U.S. team now has a 2-1 record in pool play and will play a good Lithuania team Saturday. Brown was happy with Thursday's victory but never completely satisfied.

So, more chalk and erasers. Maybe even mandatory study hall.

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