It wasn’t pretty but they got the job done. USA basketball picked up it’s fourth straight Olympic gold medal late Friday night beating France 87-82 in Tokyo’s Saitama Super Arena. The US shook off an early lose to the French and silenced a lot of doubters, including myself, to win a fourth straight gold. The last time the US failed to get gold in basketball was in 2004 at Athens where they picked up a bronze. Gregg Popovich returns home from his only Olympic games as a head coach with a gold medal.
Despite winning a gold medal it wasn’t comfortable and the US benefited from some superhuman play from Kevin Durant. Let’s face it without Durant this team returns from Tokyo without a medal. Durant put on a show scoring in bunches and proving just why the Brooklyn Nets gave him a 4-year, $198 million extension last week.
While from the start it was clear Popovich was mishandling his men and a rift in the locker room seemed imminent, the team got it together. Following the loss to the France the US was in control during every single game it played, outside of the final against France. The US caught some luck as the French couldn’t hit a shot for love nor money in the final three minutes of the gold medal contest.
While obviously I’m happy the US returned home with gold, this Olympics still left a lot of questions about the future of USA basketball. The world is catching up in terms of talent, with the likes of France, Australia and Spain all boasting strong squads. The US will not always have Kevin Durant to bail them out. There will need to be changes as the prep begins for the FIBA world cup in 2023 and for the Paris 2024 games.
For me it starts with coaching. Popovich can’t return as head coach. While I’ll never disrespect his accomplishments as an NBA coach, I think he shouldn’t be involved in the future of USA basketball. Steve Kerr probably shouldn’t be involved either. The best route for USA basketball to go is through college coaches. While I don’t have a particular name in mind, I think USA basketball should look to hire a few college coaches. It worked well under coach K; I think it can work again.
USA basketball also needs to change some on court strategy, they need to get bigger. One way the French dominated was with height. Height plays to your advantage under the FIBA rules. The US should look to bring bigger more physical big men. Also, the reliance on the three ball needs to be cut down.
While I am extremely proud of the boys for returning from Tokyo with a gold medal it should not have been as difficult as it was. Relaying on a single superstar like Kevin Durant isn’t a formula that will work long term. While we should rejoice and celebrate a fourth gold medal, we should also shift our focus to the future of the USA basketball. We need to shift philosophies to prevent future failures, but for now let’s celebrate.