Team USA has work cut out for it

Originally Published: August 17, 2004
By Chad Ford | ESPN Insider
True story.

In June 2003, I was in Chicago at the pre-draft camp and spent the day following future Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony. After lunch, Carmelo and I started talking about the other players in the draft. Carmelo was especially having a hard time figuring out why Joe Dumars, a guy he obviously respected greatly, would ever pass on him to take a 7-footer from Yugoslavia -- the infamous Darko Milicic.

As we went down a draft list riddled with international players, Melo shrugged his shoulders and said something to this effect.

"Those foreign dudes can't play, man."

I followed up. Melo never had seen any footage of Milicic, or any of the other top international draft prospects for that matter. Didn't matter. The same way it hasn't mattered for millions of fans or the handful of NBA scribes who venture into the subject.

Guys like Dirk Nowtizki and Peja Stojakovic are the aberrations, they claim. Europe is mostly filled with the Vitaly Potapenkos of the world, they write.

After watching the season play out, you had to figure that Melo's opinion wasn't that far off. Melo was dominant, turning in one of the most impressive rookie seasons in recent history. Darko was the towel boy on the world championship Pistons.

Fast forward 14 months to Jacksonville, where Team USA readied itself for international play. Melo, along with 11 other NBA stars, were preparing to win the gold medal in Athens.

"We're guaranteeing a gold medal. We're bringing it back," Anthony boldly predicted on his first day of practice. What is ironic is that Melo had played for Team USA once before and hadn't come home with a gold. He was a member of the 2002 USA Junior World Championship Qualifying Team that traveled to Venezuela (and lost to its team) before winning the bronze medal.

Still, coach Larry Brown, the guy who openly pined for Carmelo over Darko, didn't do much to hold his young star back.

"That's just a young kid saying that," Brown said. "But as long as he respects the people we're playing against and understands how good they've got, I don't have any problem with that."

Do you think he does now? Respect and understanding are two of the biggest commodities that many members of Team USA lack. After watching their team get blown out in the prelims and in the opening game of the Olympics, Brown and Anthony (who played just 3 minutes on Sunday) have a problem.

Chad Ford

ESPN Senior Writer