Basketball: U.S. lacks size, but could still stand tall at Olympics

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LAS VEGAS -- Until he was injured and subsequently scratched from the team late Thursday, it wouldn't have been beyond the realm of possibility that Blake Griffin could have seen time at center for the U.S. men's basketball team in London.

Tyson Chandler probably will start, seeing how he's the only 7-footer on the team.

But it's been a constant flash point for debate as the U.S. team prepares for London.

Dwight Howard is out because of back surgery and Andrew Bynum is out because he wanted to rest his delicate knees. There went the two starting All-Star centers.

It has left Team USA with a shortage of big men.

Still, will it even matter?

The international game isn't about brute force, thanks primarily to the long-running history of the "trapezoid" key, which kept post players from camping in the lane from 1956 until 2010, when FIBA did away with it in favor of a more traditional width near the basket.

Fifty-four years of the trapezoid typically created a mind-set of finesse and outside touch for international big men. It's not really a place for 7-footers.

Shaquille O'Neal, the most dominant center of the past 20 years, played in only one Olympics (1996) and was overlooked for the original Dream Team four years earlier when the one spot reserved for a college player went to the less-lumbering Christian Laettner.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer, never played in an Olympics because, in his own words, "I felt that my diploma was a more important priority and stayed with my summer job." Of course, Abdul-Jabbar played in an era when only amateurs were considered for Olympic basketball and missed his only chance in 1968.

Power forward Lamar Odom was the center when the U.S. beat Turkey to win the FIBA World Championship two years ago. He made 7 of 9 shots and took 11 rebounds in an 81-64 victory.

When Chandler needs rest this year in London, Kevin Love and now Anthony Davis, who was added when Griffin went out, will spell him. Love is a power forward and Davis, while a shot-swatting fool in his one season at Kentucky before being selected No. 1 overall by the New Orleans Hornets, is still just 19.

USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo has been asked constantly about the lack of big men on the roster.

"People keep throwing Spain in our face, 'What about the Gasols?' And I say, 'Well, what about the Gasols? Our guys play against them every day" during the NBA season, Colangelo said. "And matchups always go two ways. They have to be able to guard our quickness, our speed, our versatility, and so I'm not really concerned about that."

Spain will be the biggest challenge with Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka -- two All-Star brothers to go along with a third player who easily led the NBA in blocked shots last season (3.7 a game)

Despite the lack of height at center, the U.S. will be a long team at other positions. Kevin Durant (6-9) is tall for a small forward, and LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are both bulky 6-8 small forwards.

As for the rest of the international competition, there aren't many imposing threats size-wise to the U.S.

France would have been tough by the basket, but Joakim Noah opted out of the Olympics because of an ankle injury, leaving 6-8 Boris Diaw as the main big man.

Argentina has 6-9 power forward Luis Scola and not much else down low. A familiar name might have given the U.S. problems against China if Yao Ming hadn't retired because of foot problems a year ago.

Besides Spain, only Brazil has a fairly solid front line. Nene, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter are all active hustle types who could give the U.S. trouble in spurts. Coach Mike Krzyzewski should get an idea just how much trouble when Team USA plays the Brazilians in an exhibition 8 p.m. Monday in Washington (ESPN2).

Short or not at center, the U.S. isn't concerned.

"There are a lot of 6-9 and 6-10 guys who are much better than 7-footers," Colangelo said. "We don't have a lot of true post-up centers on any level. So what do we do? Cry about the fact we don't have any? No. You say, 'What can we do to counteract that?' I think we've come up with a lot of 6-10 guys who can really play, who are really versatile, who are really quick."


• Game: Team USA vs. Brazil in an exhibition game, Verizon Center, Washington.

• When: 8 p.m. Monday.

• TV: ESPN2.

• Of note: The Team USA women's basketball team plays Brazil's women's team in an exhibition before the men's game (5:30 p.m., ESPN2).

olympics - sportsother


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