- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

ATHENS — Larry Brown was despondent, the head of the U.S. selection committee was defensive, and Allen Iverson was hanging up on callers who asked what went wrong.

A day after their first Olympic loss in 16 years, the Americans were experiencing varying degrees of distress.

“I feel like a failure,” Brown said. “I’m very disappointed, but very anxious to try to make it better and make it right. That’s all I can do.

“If you don’t play with unbelievable effort — plus the fact that these teams are really, truly teams and want it so badly — what happened last night is going to happen again and again and again.”

Coming off a shocking 92-73 loss to Puerto Rico, the American men will play Greece tonight in front of a boisterous crowd. The noise level of the fans rooting for the host nation will no doubt be ratcheted up now that everyone has seen how the U.S. team is not just vulnerable, but beatable.

Yesterday was a day of self-analysis, self-loathing and self-defense at the American College of Greece, where the U.S. team went through practice still numb from the game the night before.

“It’s always embarrassing to lose a game you should win,” Lamar Odom said. “I don’t care if you’re playing handball in the park. You feel like you should win and you lose, wow!”

Iverson wasn’t about to make excuses, “‘cause when you do, it makes it harder to recover.”

“You realize that you didn’t play well, and you try to get together what you did wrong and not point the finger at everyone else,” he said.

Carmelo Anthony added: “I didn’t sign up for losing, especially not the first game we were in.”

U.S. selection committee chairman Stu Jackson attended the practice, but he wasn’t too comfortable discussing how the Americans managed to put together a team with such an obvious flaw — the lack of a capable 3-point shooter to deter opponents from packing defenders into a tight zone.

“The committee did in fact discuss that, but the fact remains that some of our better shooters aren’t here,” Jackson said. “They didn’t elect to play, and we had to go very deep into our player pool, and this is the team that we have.”

The committee had an opportunity to add a shooter in late June but instead chose center Emeka Okafor, selecting a fourth big man over a second pure point guard or a deadeye shooting guard.

Okafor, however, has languished on the bench as the team’s 12th man.

And the players who are getting time aren’t having success from beyond the arc, going a dreadful 3-for-24 Sunday with 16 consecutive misses.

“It’s not in our best interest to talk about the process,” Jackson said. “It’s over. These are our players, these are our coaches, and this is a game where you don’t have excuses.

“We’re here, we’re in the middle of the tournament, and we have to do the best to win the gold medal. So any other questions regarding the process I’m not going to entertain.”

Far more talkative was Iverson, except to those who called him after the loss and asked the wrong question.

“I hanged up on anybody that asked what happened. What kind of question is that?” he said. “What happened? We lost.

“If my coach asked me a question like that, then I’d give him an explanation or my teammates. But everyone else? For what? They wouldn’t understand anyway.”

Odom heard from Laiza Morales, the mother of his two children.

“She’s Puerto Rican, so she gave it to me a little yesterday,” Odom said. “She said it was bittersweet. But I don’t really feel like we let down the U.S.”

Brown obviously felt otherwise, knocking his team for failing to play with effort, smarts or energy.

He and his staff have failed to make a connection with a group of players some 40 years younger than they are, and Brown’s frustration was as evident as his words were harsh.

“In a sense, I guess we feel like we are the Dream Team, where you can just roll it out and think something good is going to happen. It’s just not possible,” Brown said. “There’s no way a coach can coach effort. No way.

“You’re playing on the U.S. Olympic team in the Olympics, and if you’ve got to question people’s effort, you’ve got a serious problem.”

Today’s other games are New Zealand-China, Australia-Angola, Lithuania-Puerto Rico, Serbia and Montenegro-Italy and Argentina-Spain.

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