Team USA got a good start in men's basketball at the 2011 Pan-American Games on Wednesday night as they eked out a victory over Jack Michael Martinez and the Dominican Republic National Team. Team USA's quest toward its first gold medal, with a roster that features D-League players for the first time ever, will continue Thursday night when they play Brazil live on ESPN2 at 7:55 CT.
Brazil doesn't have any recognizable names on its roster as they're all either unable to find insurance to cover their playing in the Pan-Am games or have began play with their various regular season teams in lieu of competing in Guadalajara, Mexico. Considering it's going to be actual live competitive basketball available in high definition on the television set, however, everyone may as well tune in!
[Update: Results here if interested!]
Since it's difficult to really write a preview for tonight's game featuring players I'm not familiar with (there are no Jack Michael Martinez's or big men that played at Bemidji State on Brazil's roster for some odd reason), some extended thoughts on USA's victory over the Dominican Republic are included below.
- I received quite a few texts, calls emails and even a couple of direct messages from NBA and D-League personnel regarding Team USA's game against the Dominican Republic. That indicates to me that either people in basketball are really looking for some decent basketball to watch while waiting for the NBA lockout to end or that a mishmash of D-Leaguers are able to create quite a bit more interest when they have USA emblazoned on their jerseys.
- Lance Thomas didn't stand out to me much with the Austin Toros last season so I didn't have high hopes for the former Duke glue guy being a vital part of Team USA's success in the Pan-Am games. After a woeful first half, I felt vindicated for thinking that, but Thomas went out and proved me wrong in the second half by doing a lot of the little things well and playing better defense than his on-court counterparts.
- Jerome Dyson was Team USA's starting point guard on Wednesday night, but not many I conversed with thought that role was deserved (Dyson plays for head coach Nate Tibbetts' Tulsa 66ers during the D-League season). One person said "Dyson is looking pretty selfish," another wrote "Dyson is playing bad. SO bad," and I even opined on Twitter that a change in the backcourt was probably needed. Dyson finished the game with 12 points on 11 shots, picking up two steals and assists while turning the ball over three times in his 19 minutes on the court.
- What sort of change would I suggest? The second unit of Blake Ahearn and Justin Dentmon impressed me in spurts. Ahearn is a more methodical point guard that can set up the offense or take the open three-pointer when it's shown to him while Dentmon showed a burst of open-court speed I don't remember seeing last season -- with both on the court at the same time, it gives the offense a lot of options.
- Marcus Lewis didn't finish with the prettiest line in the box score -- 2-for-7 for four points and four fouls in in 19 minutes -- but the veteran power forward had two game-saving blocks and what became the game-winning free-throw as Tibbetts left another of his D-League players on the court during crunch time. It was a move I didn't expect, but Lewis made the most of his time on the court ... just like he typically does in the D-League.
- I was surprised at the lack of playing time for Greg Stiemsma and Brian Butch (23 minutes and 14 seconds combined) as I think both are potential game changers -- Stiemsma with his shot blocking and Butch with his ability to stretch the defense.
- Freakin' Jack Michael Martinez had 31 points on 11-of-17 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds for good measure and one text message I received from an NBA player personnel guy said "Not the best I've seen from Jack Michael. Kind of lethargic out there." My half-broken iPhone doesn't have a sarcastic font I'm aware of, either, so imagine what kind of impact a focused Martinez could have in the NBA (or D-League).
- Curtis Sumpter played less than three minutes for Team USA in the victory. Considering he's the only player on the team that will be entering the D-League Draft rather than returning to a specific team, I was hoping to see a bit more of him.
Highlights, for those interested, are available here.