Remember the glory days of US basketball?
The Dream Team.
The Dream Team II.
The US not only won, they were blowing the competition out of the water.
Then came 2002. Indianapolis. In a blink of an eye the USA reign of dominance came to a quick and abrupt end. Three losses in one tournament will do that. Things continued to slide in the 2004 Olympics. The Olympics had been the stage for US basketball where they had won three straight gold medals. A bronze in Athens however, truly shook the foundation of the program and as a result USA basketall had to take a good look in the mirror.
The end result? Longer commitments. A team concept centered around the new generation of stars. Sure Lebron, Carmelo and Wade were there in 2004, but they had small roles. Today they are captains. It seems to me like USA Basketball is primed to regain their dominance and the reason is that the team today is truly filled with the next generation of great NBA players. They don't want to be compared to the Dream Team, and they probably shouldn't be....yet. The reality is though, if many of the players on this squad continue to develop as they have been, this could be the beginnings of the greatest team ever assembled. Yes, even better than the original Dream Team. By the time the 2008 Olympics comes around who knows how talented this team will be. Think of the young talent on this team, even outside of D-Wade, King James, and Melo. Guys like Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and yes, Toronto's own Chris Bosh are still developping their games and by '08 will just be entering their primes. When it is all said and done expect a few MVP's and countless championships out of this collection of players.
Chris Bosh has to love being a part of this. Although he is getting the least publicity out of those team members belonging to that 2003 class the experience he is getting is practice alone is something for Raptor fans to be excited about, let alone any game experience along the way. Think of the guys he is matching up against during practice, Elton Brand, Dwight Howard and Brad Miller. How do you think this compares to some former Raps over the years....
You get the picture.
The question really becomes what can we expect from Bosh this season after a summer of battling some of the best PF's in the game? (As an aside the Bosh-Howard match-up is going to be golden for years to come.) Considering how much Bosh has developped in such a short period of time it could be very interesting to see what elements of his game will have improved. If I was a betting man (who am I kidding, I am a betting man) I would say we are going to see a better rebounding Bosh. CB4 will have spent all summer matching up against two rebounding machines in Howard and Brand it would be shocking if Bosh does not have a career year on the glass. Add in the fact that Rasho will me manning the 5 spot and will be doing the dirty work we may be looking at a 20-10 man. This would be huge for the Raps as we have all been witness to some rebounding massacres over the past two seasons.
The other aspect of Bosh's game I expect to get a boost from this experience is passing. Brad Miller is a great passing big man, and although this skill is more of a feel thing than anything else, Bosh will face an enormous number of double teams this year and the ability to pass out of them to the open man will be a huge factor in how successful the Raps are. Obviously the player on the receiving end has to make the shot, but getting the ball out is key. Hopefully some of Miller's passing skills will have rubbed off.
Of course there is more to these Championships as a Raptors fan then Bosh (who played 12 minutes and had five points in the first game against Puerto Rico). Being in the market that we are, the reporting on the FIBA World Championships focuses heavily on team USA but what many people overlook is that there are five Raptors in Japan right now. Therefore all of these five will have spent a summer working hard on their games and playing against the best players that the world has to offer, not just the NBA. Calderon, Garba, Slokar and Rasho are all in Japan for the World Championships and for the most part this is exciting. Here are some thoughts on each:
Rasho Nesterovic: When it comes to Rasho, his participation in these Championships could be a huge asset to the Raps. No-one expects Rasho to develop any more as a player (4 points and 4 boards in his first game against Senegal), but the result of playing hard all summer will be a big man, who from the opening day of training camp, will be in shape and ready to go. Not having Rasho coming into camp 20 pounds overweight and having to spend significant time on the bike shedding the summer poundage will give him and Bosh more time to develop some chemistry and learn each other's games. The quicker these guys gel the better.
Uros Slokar: Nobody expects much from Slokar this season and rightfully so. Slokar will not get much burn and may spend some time in the D-League. Participating in Japan is just another chance for him to develop his game and gain experience. Nothing but positives coming out of him being there and provided he continues to get some minutes (17 against Senegal with 1 point and 6 boards) Raps fans have to take comfort in him getting the chance to develop.
Jorge Garbajosa: Jorge has played a lot of international ball thus far in his career and he is no stranger to these types of competitions and you can expect some solid play. Proof? In game one he had 16 points and 7 boards in Spain's win over New Zealand. If there is a true wildcard on this years Raps squad perhaps it is Garbajosa. In some ways I can see Mitchell developping an infatuation for his toughness and ability to hit the outside shot. On the other hand I can see Mitchell planting him firmly on the end of the bench because there is just not enough minutes.
Calderon: If there was one guy I wish was not participating in these championships it is Calderon. He should simply be locked in a gym with a rack of basketball's, a net and a guy to grab the rebounds as he takes 1500-2000 jumpers a day. I am skeptical about Calderon being a better shooter this year than last simply because he will not have had time in the off-season to truly improve his shot. Playing daily is of course a benefit, but he doesn't need organized practices. He needs to shoot and then shoot some more.
As the World Championships continue on we will of course be covering the Raps' side of things and will be doing our best to catch the games, despite being played at all hours of the night.