Gold medal is step in Team USA's plan

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- At the conclusion of the FIBA Americas U18 Championship gold medal game on Sunday night between the U.S. and Brazil -- another cakewalk win for the Americans -- the U.S. team rose and politely applauded its 81-38 victory.

There was no big celebration, no whooping and hollering. After all, it ended just like everyone expected. In this hemisphere, the U.S. is first and Brazil is a distant second.

"As a team, we made it our goal to win the gold," Chiney Ogwumike said. "This was just us achieving another goal."

It took a while to get going, yes -- the U.S. held a 22-7 first-quarter lead before reeling off 10 unanswered points on its way to a 43-16 halftime lead -- but when the Americans get rolling, there is no stopping them.

Bria Hartley (11 points, four assists and four steals) dished to shooters, Diamond DeShields (10 points, seven rebounds) hung in the air for double-clutch shots and Malina Howard (12 points on seven shots) went to work inside. Ogwumike (nine points, three assists and two steals) was her usual steady self and Theresa Plaisance delighted the crowd with four blocks. Brazil, who had two players with nine points each, didn't have much to counter with.

"It's fun to play with this team knowing that everyone can do something great at any time," Howard said.

Sitting courtside as a guest of Brazil was Janeth Arcain, arguably the best women's basketball player to ever come out of the country. Arcain, who played for nine years in the WNBA and won two Olympic medals with Brazil before retiring, sat and watched as her home country struggled helplessly against the U.S. Earlier in the week, Arcain said a funny thing -- she likes what the U.S. is doing and how good they are, even if Brazil has to suffer for it some.

"We have a good standing right now but we still need to improve at the World Championships [as a program]," Arcain said. "It's good to come to the U.S. because it gives us a change in experience; it helps us improve our country."

In reality, this week was just a steppingstone for what the U.S. hopes to accomplish next summer -- a gold at the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship in Chile. But U.S. coach Jennifer Rizzotti believes that even if the U.S. has already set the standard, her players still have a lot to learn.

"As a coach and a representative of USA basketball, I think it's part of my job to teach kids that we are the standard and how to handle that," Rizzotti said. "We talked about how next year [at the World Championship] there will be a lot more people who have caught up with the U.S. standard than they think."

Rizzotti ticked off the different things she believes the U.S. could learn from other teams: Chile plays with more discipline and Brazil with more passion and enthusiasm. For now though, other teams are still playing catch-up.

"I believe [the U.S. is good] because they play so tall and strong and have good fundamentals and are physical," said Brazil coach Luiz Claudio Tarallo, before insisting that Brazil can join the U.S. in the top tier.

"The generation before, we beat the U.S.," he said, his eyes lighting up.

For now, the U.S. sits on top, alone. But they have not lost sight of the future.

"There's always something ahead," Ogwumike said.

This, Rizzotti said, was step one. Step two comes next summer, when the U.S. could raise the bar again, inviting the rest of the world to play at its level.

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Lindsay Schnell is a staff writer for HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Oregon State University, she has been involved in the Oregon girls' basketball community for most her life as a player, high school coach, writer and fan. She also has been regular contributor to The Oregonian and won several awards for her writing. She can be reached at lindsay@hoopgurlz.com.