US won’t be sold short at worlds
ISTANBUL — Kobe Bryant towers over a city street as he dribbles a basketball in the cover photo of a pamphlet distributed earlier this year to promote the FIBA World Championships.
After offseason knee surgery, Bryant isn’t doing much dribbling at all this summer.
Even before announcing he was leaving Cleveland for South Beach, it was obvious LeBron James wouldn’t be going to Turkey.
Nor did any other players who helped the United States win the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. In their place is what’s been called the “B Team,’’ a group of second choices who are here only because the guys with bigger names had better things to do.
And they’re aware of what’s being said about them.
“We love to compete. We’re professionals,’’ forward Lamar Odom said. “One of the best things about playing sports is being competitive. When someone says you can’t, it makes you more motivated.’’
Now the B Team will try to do what the A-listers couldn’t four years ago in Japan: win the world’s biggest basketball tournament.
The tournament starts tomorrow in four cities in Turkey, with the US facing Croatia in Istanbul. Six teams are in each group, and four will survive pool play to advance to the single-elimination round starting Sept. 4 in Istanbul.
The championship game is scheduled for Sept. 12, and the Americans expect to be playing in it for the first time in 16 years.
“We just want to go out there and win,’’ forward Andre Iguodala said. “I think we’re really hungry and we’re really excited to have the opportunity to play for the USA and we want to bring back home the gold.’’
But there are concerns for a team with a lack of size and experience. The 6-foot-10-inch Odom is now the starting center on a squad with only one 7-footer (Tyson Chandler) and with six players age 22 or younger.
Chauncey Billups, the veteran of the team at 33, was asked what still concerned the coaches the most.
“More than anything, I think it’s still rebounding the ball and going at a high level,’’ Billups said. “Still knowing that we are a small team, rebounding, and sometimes we get a little wacky and turn the ball over a little too much. Those are our main two concerns.’’
But if the Americans are able to get out and run, they’re confident they won’t stop until they’ve reached the gold medal platform.
“From top to bottom everybody can play and score the ball and I think we’re really defending well,’’ guard Stephen Curry said. “I think we have everything covered.’’