September 13, 2010

Team USA are World Basketball Champions

The americans are officially back on top of the basketball world.

After what seemed to be like an endless stream of upset losses, mediocre play, underwhelming performances, and bronze medals in the international game, Team USA completed their process of redemption by winning gold at the FIBA World Championships in Turkey. USA beat the hosts 81-64 in the final on Sunday, providing the perfect ending to an impressive unbeaten tournament. Paired with the awe-inspiring exploits of the 'Redeem Team' which won the Beijing Olympic gold in 2008, the US have left no doubts on being the best international team in the business.

But, unlike the 'Redeem Team', the World Championship squad, labelled the 'B' team by their detractors, did not arrive with the same superstar hoopla. The team had no super-duper-star except for Kevin Durant. Gone were the Dwyane Wades, the Kobe Bryants, the LeBron James', and the Carmelo Anthonies. They were replaced by the likes of Lamar Odom, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Andre Igoudala. The only other veteran presence except for Odom in this team was Chauncey Billups.

The 21-year-old Durant, the NBA's leading scorer last season (the youngest ever!) grabbed this opportunity with both hands to become the best player in the world. He ended up as the tournament's MVP, averaging 22.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game during the course of the tournament. He showed up as the going got tougher, scoring 33 in the Quarter Final against Russia, 38 in the semis against Lithuania, and 28 in the final against Turkey. He was the USA's most consistent and trustworthy player, game after game, and has staked his claim to replace some of the other "stars" when USA prepare their squad for the 2012 Olympics.

Durant scored more points than any American in the World Championships ever (205) and scored more points in a single game than any American ever (38). If I had to bet today, I can see him easily becoming the NBA's MVP in the 2010-11 season.

Hosts Turkey put up a brave show, going undefeated until the final, led by Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova. Lithuania defeated Serbia to win the bronze medal, and both teams an excellent overall tournament. The play of the tournament would probably be Serbia's Milos Teodosic's game-winning three to shock Spain.

Speaking of: Spain were probably the biggest disappointments of the tournament. Playing without last World Championships' MVP Pau Gasol, Spain failed to really make a mark, finishing sixth, below Argentina, who were fifth. Argentina featured some amazing play by Luis Scola, who averaged 27.1 ppg (tournament leader), 7.9 rpg, and was an influence all over the court.

FIBA's team of the tournament was:

Kevin Durant (USA)
Luis Scola (Argentina)
Hedo Turkoglu (Turkey)
Linas Kleiza (Lithuania)
Milos Teodosic (Serbia)

Unfortunately, for us hoop fans in India, the World Championships were not shown on TV, because apparently fixed Pakistan-England cricket series' are more important.

The tournament was by far the most hyped World Championships ever, but it still lost a lot of credibility after many of the world's best players decided to skip it. Players such as Gasol, Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni (Argentina), Yao Ming (China), Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Tony Parker (France), Nene (Brazil), and Andrew Bogut (Australia) did not play. Of course, USA played without and of their Redeem Team players, such as Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Carmelo, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Chris Bosh, and Chris Paul.

It is sad that so many great players (by choice, fatigue, or injury) did not show up for this competition, because a tournament like this deserves to have a stature in basketball equal to the FIFA World Cup. Fortunately, the teams that did show up put up an amazing show, and Durant's heroic contributions will be remembered for years to come.

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