- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

COLOGNE, Germany — The U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team did more than merely lose. It was embarrassed and exposed like never before in international competition.

Losing an exhibition game for the first time when using NBA players, the Americans were completely outclassed by lightly regarded Italy, never even making it close in the fourth quarter of a 95-78 upset yesterday.

“This is a wakeup call for us,” Philadelphia 76ers star Allen Iverson said. “I think we need something like this to understand it’s not going to be easy.”

The Americans were sloppy with the ball and couldn’t handle Italy’s zone defenses and 3-point shooting. Italy not only made 15 from behind the arc but also showed superior ball movement and poise in handing the Americans their most lopsided defeat since pros began competing in 1992.

“They’re going to be in for a lot of lessons for the next few weeks,” U.S. coach Larry Brown said. “It’s a young team, and it’s a different game internationally.”

Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony led the Americans with 19 points, and two-time NBA MVP Tim Duncan added 15 points and a team-high 10 rebounds. Italy, whose roster is filled entirely by players from that country’s league, was led by Giacomo Galanda’s 28 points and Gianluca Basile’s 25.

“We took them by surprise,” Italian coach Carlo Recalcati said. “They didn’t expect us to be such good shooters. They didn’t know us.”

While the Italians were fifth at the Sydney Olympics, the United States is unbeaten at the Summer Games and in Olympic qualifying since NBA players were allowed in 1992 and will seek a fifth straight gold medal at the Aug.13-29 Athens Olympics.

But the United States is sending its youngest team to the Olympics — the average age is 231/2 — since the door opened for NBA players.

“We need more time together,” Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. “These teams play together for years, and we have to put it together in a couple of weeks.”

At the 2002 world championships, an American team with NBA players was beaten for the first time, 87-80 by Argentina. The United States went on to lose twice more in that tournament and finished sixth.

In an effort to avoid a similar display, the current U.S. squad is touring Europe before heading to Greece. Today it will face Dirk Nowitzki-led Germany, which beat Italy 85-77 on Sunday.

Yesterday Iverson’s jump shot trimmed Italy’s lead to 56-52 with under three minutes left in the third quarter, but the Americans got no closer. On Italy’s next two trips down the floor, Basile made 3-pointers that stretched the underdogs’ lead to 62-52.

Iverson winced when Massimo Bulleri made a 3-pointer despite falling down and having the past NBA scoring champion’s hand in his face late in the third quarter.

“We just didn’t communicate well on defense,” Iverson said.

The Americans had all sorts of problems on defense and offense, getting called for three shot-clock violations and several traveling calls before 14,831 spectators.

The Italians were 15-for-35 from behind the line, while Americans went 4-for-13, justifying Brown’s fears that his team might be short on pure shooters.

Word of the stunning result spread quickly.

“That was a surprise,” said Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, who watched the game on TV after China lost to Argentina in Belgrade, Serbia-Montenegro. “I think they will get better in a few weeks, few days. So, no problem.”

At Belgrade Arena, the crowd at the Diamond Ball Tournament for Olympic teams let out a loud cheer when the score was announced over the public address system.

“The competition out here is a lot tougher than people think it is,” said Del Harris, China’s Olympic coach and an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks.

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