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Sunday, October 1
U.S. coaches lead way in poor sportsmanship

SYDNEY, Australia --- As it turned out, this was a perfect picture, these United States coaches screaming and swearing, chasing the game officials off the SuperDome court. Why wouldn't Alonzo Mourning need a member of the United States delegation to wrap his arms around him and get him out of harm's way? Why wouldn't Vince Carter spend his time preening in the face of a Lithuanian instead of shaking his hand?

USA assistant coach Larry Brown (R) argues with the referee after the game of the men's semifinal basketball match against Lithuania.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: Why wouldn't there be chaos on the court, when it can be found on the bench?

All they had to do was watch Rudy Tomjanovich screaming a profanity to an official on his way off the floor of the United States' 85-83 victory, when he should've been insisting his players take the time to congratulate Lithuania for one of the great performances in the history of basketball. He should've tackled his little buddy, Larry Brown, when the phony Philadelphia coach chased the referee off the floor with the ferocity he usually saves for a plumb job opening. Another assistant, Kentucky's Tubby Smith, had to grab Brown and physically pull him out of the ref's face.

This is setting a standard for sportsmanship? Brown can spend the summer ripping Allen Iverson on issues of accountability, and yet Brown can behave this way at the Olympics while the U.S. players get ripped to the ends of the earth? Remember, they won't let Iverson into the Olympics. Just imagine the national furor if Iverson chased a ref off the court and had to be restrained.

And to understand why the NBA players are running around Sydney so sure the world hates them, so sure they've got to bring this nasty edge to the Olympics, is to know that Tomjanovich has been beating this "Everyone hates us," mantra into the team. It just isn't true. The rest of the world wants to love the Dream Team. The rest of the world asked for it. Yet, the NBA players refuse to let them. And this was never the intention of sending pros to the Olympics.

The harder the coaches pushed the United States' problems off on the officials, the easier to mask how ill-prepared and ill-advised the U.S. team has been as it struggled throughout this tournament. Most of America can live with the rest of the world working the angles of international basketball, running impeccable offensive sets, packing tight zones and clutching and grabbing American uniforms to slow the game to a sluggish speed. They can live with Lithuania delivering a game for the ages and threatening to bring the walls crumbling down on the Dream Team. Nobody likes it, but they can live with it.

Yet, where is the outrage today over the embarrassment of this coaching staff. Everyone loves Rudy Tomjanovich, but the most embarrassing elements of the unforgettable night started and ended with him and his little helper, Larry Brown. For all the grief John Thompson had to endure for bringing home a bronze medal with college kids in 1988, he never embarrassed the country. He just a lost a game to the Soviet Union in the semifinals of the Olympics.

Looking back, Thompson had the team at a most difficult crossroads. Early entry had started to crush the colleges, at a time the Soviet Union had been dissolved and the top Russian players weren't scattered into breakaway republics. Looking back, there was good reason for the loss.

There was a telling scene on the United States sideline with 29.5 seconds left in the Lithuanian game. There was a stoppage of play, the U.S. shooting free throws, and Ray Allen heard a voice telling him to get into the game for Antonio McDyess. After rushing to the floor, there was a wild scene on the bench. Brown screamed to Allen to get back to the bench, and Tim Hardaway screamed to Tomjanovich that the lineup on the floor was too small, and they needed McDyess back in the game.

"I didn't just hear someone tell me out of the blue sky to get in the game," Allen said. "One of the coaches told me. It got to be a cluster on the sideline. Everyone was jumping up and down. The coaches didn't all agree on it. Luckily, the players caught it. Tim Hardaway said to Rudy, 'We've got to get Antonio back into the game.'"

"...We had confusion at that point. We didn't know who was supposed to be in the game. It got out of hand."

As best as players could remember, the coaches hadn't spent much time on these end of the game scenarios in practice. Understand: Before the Games, the rest us can tell Tomjanovich that the Dream Team will never play a close game, that they'll breeze by in the Olympics, but this is his job. He has to have this team prepared. It isn't.

"I don't think it should ever get to that point," Allen said. "The coaches need to make it clear to the players how many timeouts we have, who's on the floor, who's the guy we need to stop on the other team, how are we going to play defense. We've got to be in a situation where there are four coaches who need to be able to tell us what we're doing --- and that starts with the head coach on down."

In the end, the Dream Team will get beaten and bloodied for its performance in these Olympics. Winning a gold medal on Sunday night won't change it. Just this time, people shouldn't stop there.

Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for the Bergen Record and regular contributor to


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