- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

Sarunas Jasikevicius is just another international nobody who is too slow and too anchored to the floor to play in the NBA.

He is not what we want, not our style. He is an advanced version of the ‘50s-type players in “Hoosiers,” a relic from yesteryear.

Those types have been mostly eliminated from the NBA and even the elite programs of college basketball.

We covet athletes who hang on the rim and change directions in a blur.

We know Jasikevicius could not guard his shadow from his undergraduate days at the University of Maryland. At least that was the observation that came with his shooting ability.

Jasikevicius did not necessarily agree with the assessment, which is why he entertained the notion of transferring from Maryland. He thought he could be a useful element in the right system.

Jasikevicius stayed at Maryland, of course, and he eventually became a viable member of the team. His was hardly a spectacular college career. He was a 3-point specialist, for the most part, a one-trick pony who never could be all he could be in the dribble-happy, navel-to-navel basketball mind-set of America.

Yet there was talk that he might merit a look from the NBA during his last season at Maryland in 1998. He could shoot the ball, after all, and NBA coaches will keep the nearly dead on their rosters if the person can make a 3-pointer with consistency.

Six years after leaving College Park, Jasikevicius finds that is he is not competent enough to play in the NBA. Yet, curiously enough, he is competent enough to beat the ragtag collection of NBA personnel impersonating Olympians in Athens.

The 6-foot-4 point guard from Lithuania dumped 28 points on the NBA contingent, scoring 10 points in a 69-second span that decided the outcome of the game and imposed another hard blow of truth on the myopically bound, heads-buried-in-the-sand Americans.

Coach Larry Brown keeps insisting international basketball is different from the NBA, which is correct. But what is the point? It always has been different. We always have managed the differences with aplomb.

Here is the problem before Brown and so many of his basketball brethren in America: You are failing to acknowledge the obvious, which is this: The rest of the world has caught up.

Yes, the international stars play differently from their counterparts in America. But who’s to say their way is less effective than ours? In fact, given the way we are being outclassed in Athens, you would be logically impaired to accept the absoluteness of the NBA way.

One of Brown’s frequent complaints is his team’s lack of defense, which reveals a stunning lack of understanding of the problem with American basketball. Lithuania scored 94 points in a 40-minute game against an assortment of players whose defensive reputations are solid.

These are the same players who can turn a 48-minute NBA affair into a 75-70 eyesore. We watched enough of those games in the playoffs in the spring.

The conclusion is obvious. The international competitors embrace the fundamentals of the game, including the ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter. You stick three or four shooters on the floor, and all of a sudden, a team’s best intentions on defense work only so well.

Look up the playoff scores from the Lakers-Celtics glory years of the ‘80s. Those teams played defense. But those teams could stick five offensive threats on the floor at once if they wanted.

In one generation, the NBA has descended from that apex of basketball evolution to a bunch of teams touting players who can’t sink an open 15-footer with regularity.

The incompetence is often passed off as the product of great defense.

Go ahead and believe that if you like while ignoring the reality in Athens.

Jasikevicius has been unable to receive a worthy offer from the NBA because of his alleged defensive liabilities. That is amusing, considering the dearth of shooters in the NBA.

A statue could defend half the so-called shooters in the NBA.

On the plus side, however, we sure know how to dunk the ball.

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