The 2011 Pan-American Games came to a close on Sunday, shortly after Team USA wrapped up its five days in Guadalajara with a bronze medal in men's basketball. Ridiculous Upside paid particularly close attention to the team sent by the United States because it was made up of NBA Development League coaches and players signed to play in the D-League next season, and while third place is ultimately underwhelming, it seemed worth putting the past week into perspective.
Team USA put on one hell of a hell of a performance in Mexico. I watched Jack Michael Martinez destroy a few teams as an also-ran with the Domican Republic's National Team at the FIBA Americas, but Team USA was able to beat his team twice at Guadalajara. Guilherme Giovannoni was an important starter for Brazil at the same competition, but Blake Ahearn and the rest of the D-League gritted out a win over Brasil after trailing by 17 points at one point in the game.
The American D-Leaguers went to Mexico with a gold medal as its goal -- a goal the USA hasn't accomplished since Michael Jordan and Co. did it in 1983. They fell short of that goal, though, after dropping a winnable game to Mexico on Saturday before rebounding to defeat Martinez and the Dominican Republic for a second time to claim the bronze medal. It wasn't the result the team went to Mexico hoping for, but it wasn't a failure, either.
One could look at Mexico's roster, something that was done on this very site Saturday morning, and conclude Team USA's loss meant that the D-League simply isn't as good as all (three) of us D-Leagueophiles like to think. I began this discussion with ESPN's Doug Gottlieb on Twitter during the USA vs. Brazil live ESPN 2 broadcast on Thursday night, but it bears repeating here at the blog.
While the teams Nate Tibbetts and his squad faced in Mexico were missing some of their best players, the teams were still made up of some of the top players that country had to offer outside the top two or three playing in non-domestic leagues.
Team USA, on the otherhand, was made up of the best players (not already signed overseas) that Chris Alpert and Co. could get a commitment from to play in the D-League a month before the actual deadline. That commitment isn't easy, either, as the players had to decide whether overseas options were still available and how the NBA lockout would affect the D-League.
All five members of the All-D-League First Team and Second Team are either currently signed overseas or ended last year on an NBA roster, making them ineligible to play in the D-League this season until the lockout is over (and therefore it was impossible for them to commit to playing in the Development League and Team USA). But what about the Third Team, you ask? Same situation ... meaning the league's top 15 players were taken out of the running for the Pan-Am Games right off the top. In lieu of those players, Alpert, Tibbetts and the rest of Team USA's Pan-American staff picked a solid cross-section of veteran players who've shown the will to win games during their time in the D-League.
- Marcus Lewis has started just six of his 91 games with the Tulsa 66ers over the course of two seasons, but he would've become a household name had people been paying attention to Guadalajara instead of the ongoing NBA lockout.
- Ahearn's never been given an extended chance to show what he can do in the NBA, but he showed he can put a team on his back with his moxie and three-point shooting when it matters.
- Justin Dentmon was often overlooked by fans of the Texas Legends last season on a team that also featured Antonio Daniels, Sean Williams and Joe Alexander, but the point guard led the team in assists and hit some big shots when he was called upon by Tibbetts.
Keep all of that in mind when remembering the United States sent Villanova head coach Jay Wright along with future first round NBA picks Roy Hibbert, Eric Maynor, D.J. White and Wayne Ellington to the Pan-Am Games in 2007. That team, with four future first rounders, took fourth place at the international tournament.
In the end, anyone that looks at Team USA's box score versus Mexico and sees that a team featuring Lorenzo Mata-Real and former D-League castoff Jovan Harris took down the mighty USA, well, they're going to be disappointed. Looking at the big picture, though, it wasn't so bad.