Big shoes to fill for small U.S. basketball team

August 26, 2010

tysonWhere have all the big men gone?

The United States enters this weekend’s world basketball championships with a squad chock full of gifted NBA players but they will be lacking a dominating inside presence.

When the Americans last won the title, in 1994, seven-foot-one Shaquille O’Neal was a towering presence that led the U.S. team in scoring, rebounds and blocks.

But this year, the only centre wearing the Stars and Stripes will be Tyson Chandler, an agile seven-footer of the Dallas Mavericks who can run the floor like a guard.

Chandler, however, with career averages of 8.1 points and 8.8 rebounds and ready to play for his fourth NBA franchise, is hardly the type to strike fear into an intrepid guard who wanders into the lane.

A variety of reasons prevented USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo from selecting NBA centres David Lee, Brook Lopez and his twin, Robin, for the team. Colangelo also couldn’t take Amar’e Stoudemire, who declined to play at the request of the New York Knicks, who were unable to insure his new contract, worth nearly $100 million.

But weren’t there other big men around? Now, if Chandler needs a rest, gets injured, or into foul trouble, he’s replaced by the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lamar Odom, a forward out of place defending under the basket.

Colangelo admitted he tried to land a big man but had to play with the cards he was dealt. But it seems unfathomable that he decided to go with Chandler and Odom, Danny Granger and Kevin Love as his back-ups.

The guard-oriented U.S. team, led by Kevin Durant, could walk away with the title because the international style of play places a greater emphasis on running than the half-court game.

Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade helped the U.S. strike gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics because they were simply more talented than any team they faced.

This team isn’t nearly as accomplished and will have to play at a high level to win the title.

Though he has yet to become an NBA All-Star and is one of the least known players on the American squad, hopes for a U.S. title at the Aug. 28 – Sept. 12 tournament will likely rest on Chandler’s broad shoulders.

Caption: Tyson Chandler  gestures to the referee during a friendly game against Lithuania in Madrid August 21, 2010. REUTERS/Paul Hanna

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