Tuesday morning, Day 9 of 12 in California. I have often said that ANYWHERE in the world besides home becomes tiresome after 1 week. Don’t cry for me, but Friday will be welcomed.
Regardless, I have had a chance to watch the entire Road to Redemption (see yesterday’s blog) series, and am now fired up for the USA Olympic team’s effort to get basketball gold. So much so, that I woke up at 5am Pacific time to watch the US meander against Australia.
I have been down on the USA’s basketball program quite a bit in the last decade because it seemed largely indifferent as a program, did not seem dedicated or interested in a team concept. And worst of all, did not respond well to adversity or competition. If the opposition would roll over, USA was fine. But the second that anyone raised a finger in opposition, USA would not have any idea how to respond in 2002, 2004, or even 2006. What was even worse, the country didn’t seem to care.
But, because of the way the program has been put together, I am interested in these guys. They had to commit to 3 years to be considered on this team. They had to buy in to the team concept. They had to give a rip about the “USA” on their chest. And after watching Road to Redemption, I am convinced they have a good group. But will they play to their paper? We shall know soon enough.
All eyes on the USA …
For the first time since Barcelona, there's real buzz surrounding Olympic men's basketball.
A big reason for the anticipation: the expected full-flowering of the American side -- the so-called "Redeem Team" -- after three years under the czarist leadership of U.S. men's national-team program managing director Jerry Colangelo. Uncle Jerry will brook no excuses that invoke a lack of (take your pick) prep time, role players, humility, Kobe Bryant.
But as someone who sat in a near-empty RCA Dome at the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis -- and was more appalled by the indifference of the Hoosier homefolks than by the sorry performance of sixth-place Team USA -- I'm most juiced about the prospect of seeing a full and (by relatively demure Chinese standards) rocking Beijing Olympic Basketball Gymnasium.
The hosts may be a long shot for a medal, but Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian will give the Chinese a chance. Iran will be there, representing the Americans' diplomatic nemesis and providing an electric storyline.
Meanwhile, the international federation, FIBA, has done its part, choosing to fill out the draw by staging a single worldwide qualifying tournament. This has delivered a deep, European-flavored field: Last-minute Olympic entries from the qualifier, which concluded in Athens on July 20, are Croatia (always a rugged, sure-shooting side); Germany (with Dirk Nowitzki and the mercenary Chris Kaman); and Greece (the last team to beat the U.S. men -- at the '06 Worlds in Japan).
Basketball is the Western sport most thoroughly integrated into the lives of the Chinese, who can claim more NBA fans than the U.S. counts citizens. "In China, Yao's jersey is only fifth or sixth in sales," Colangelo says -- his point being that the Chinese will show up to see a broad constellation of NBA stars they know, and not just the ones on the U.S. team.
Indeed, no one will regard the Redeem Team with paralyzing awe. The 21st century isn't even a decade old, and already collections of the finest U.S. pros have lost to Argentina, Italy, Lithuania, Puerto Rico, Serbia and Spain, as well as the Greeks -- the latter a team without a single NBA player.
Men's hoops is the toughest ticket at these Games. But in contrast to 1992, lucky fans with ducats will be witnesses to a competition, not an exhibition.
The USA Roster:
15 Carmelo Anthony F 6-8 Denver Nuggets / Syracuse
4 Carlos Boozer F 6-9 Utah Jazz / Duke
12 Chris Bosh F 6-10 Toronto Raptors / Georgia Tech
10 Kobe Bryant G 6-6 Los Angeles Lakers / Lower Merion
11 Dwight Howard F/C 6-11 Orlando Magic / SW Atlanta
6 LeBron James F 6-8 Cleveland Cavaliers / St. Vincent
5 Jason Kidd G 6-4 Dallas Mavericks / Califonria
13 Chris Paul G 6-0 New Orleans Hornets / Wake Forest
14 Tay Prince F 6-9 Detroit Pistons / University of Kentucky
8 Michael Redd G 6-6 Milwaukee Bucks / Ohio State
9 Dwyane Wade G 6-4 Miami Heat / Marquette
7 Deron Williams G 6-3 Utah Jazz / Illinois
And the Schedule :
vs. China: Aug. 10, 10:15 a.m. ET
vs. Angola: Aug. 12, 8 a.m. ET
vs. Greece: Aug. 14, 8 a.m. ET
vs. Spain: Aug. 16, 10:15 a.m. ET
vs. Germany: Aug. 18, 8 a.m. ET
Quarterfinals: Aug. 20
Semifinals: Aug. 22
Finals: Aug. 24
Who are the top challengers to the Gold? …
Key Eligible Players: Manu Ginobili, G, San Antonio Spurs; Andres Nocioni, F, Chicago Bulls; Luis Scola, F, Houston Rockets; Carlos Delfino, G, Toronto Raptors; Fabricio Oberto, C, San Antonio Spurs; Ruben Wolkowyski, C, Legea (Italy).
The Skinny: Argentina comes off a second-place, 6-1 finish at the 2007 FIBA Americas tournament following a disappointing run at the World Championships in which they failed to medal. Argentina expects its NBA weapons, including Ginobili, Nocioni and Delfino to compete. But this is not the same squad that took Gold in the 2004 Olympic Games and silver in the 2002 FIBA World Championship. Veterans Juan "Pepe" Sanchez and Walter Hermann (Pistons) have retired from the national team.
Key Eligible Players: Pau Gasol, F, Los Angeles Lakers (NBA); Juan Carlos Navarro, G, Memphis Grizzlies (NBA), Marc Gasol, C, Akasvayu Girona (Spain); Jose Calderon, G, Toronto Raptors (NBA); Jorge Garbajosa, F, Toronto Raptors (NBA), Rudy Fernandez, G, DKV Joventut Badalona (Spain); Felipe Reyes, F, Real Madrid; Carlos Jimenez, F, Unicaja Malaga, Ricky Rubio, G, DKV Joventut; Sergio Rodriguez, G, Portland Trail Blazers (NBA); Fran Vazquez, C, F.C. Barcelona (Spain).
The Skinny: Spain is coming off a second-place finish at Eurobasket 2007 and a Gold Medal at the FIBA World Championship. No squad is in better position to challenge the United States than the Spanish National Team, given its abundance of talent and cohesiveness as a unit. At this point there's more players than roster spots, and players with national team experience are not guaranteed to be making the trip to Beijing. The core of the squad, however, is likely to be composed by Pau Gasol, Navarro, Calderon and Fernandez. The status of Garbajosa, a key piece of the '06 WBC Gold Medal team, is very much in doubt after undergoing an operation in December on his fibula and ankle. Rodriguez will be battling for a roster spot with Rubio, who has been an impact player professionally in Europe over the last two years despite having yet to turn 18. Marc Gasol, who replaced an injured Vazquez in Japan, has developed considerably in the last year and is another bright young prospect. Jimenez and Reyes are dependable role players. Calderon blossomed with the Raptors this season, Fernandez is considered one of the top guards in Europe and Navarro is the X-Factor in any matchup vs. Team USA.
I told you the Favre thing wasn’t over….
Jay Glazer says bad things are about to go down …
Brett Favre's Packers career appears exactly as it has over the last several months, at best in limbo, at worst over. After hours of meetings and few if any details emerging, it now seems less and less likely that Favre will be back on the playing field for the Packers, FOXSports.com has learned.
The two sides are expected to meet again in the morning as they try to work toward a solution palatable to both sides. However, one detail FOXSports.com gathered from the meeting was Favre's insistence that he did not want his presence to destroy the team's chemistry. In fact, Favre was adamant that he wanted to do what was in the best interest of the locker room and admitted this distraction was not what his teammates needed.
Another agreement from the meeting was that, despite reports to the contrary, there would not be an open quarterback competition as even Favre felt this would not be in the best interests of the locker room. Thus, Aaron Rodgers is the team's starting quarterback.
As Favre met with head coach Mike McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson late Monday, the sides were moving toward an agreement to end this circus, but uncertainty remained about what that agreement ultimately will be.
Favre and the team continued to hold the same viewpoints they've held for weeks but rather than continuing their stalemate, they have joined in pursuit of a mutually agreeable solution. Whether that solution will entail a trade, a release or another option was not determined in the meeting.
Favre, however, stood to his long-standing desire to stay within the division. But the Packers were still hoping to find another option.
a good solid column on Romo …
There may be a circus at American Airlines Center, but you can't find one here at Tranquility Bay.
At the heart of the calm is quarterback Tony Romo.
A celebrity quarterback because he dates Jessica Simpson?
Yes, and who cares? As former NFL quarterback Babe Laufenberg said, "If you don't have a celebrity quarterback in the NFL, you don't have a quarterback."
True enough. What do you want, Kyle Boller?
Romo, by the way, said he is not content to rest on last year's franchise records for completions (335), yards (4,211), touchdown passes (36) and 300-yard games (seven).
"You can always take it to another level," he said, then asks how many interceptions New England's Tom Brady threw to go with his NFL-record 50 touchdown passes.
I tell him eight.
"Oh, good," he says, laughing. "I thought it was four."
Romo's working on his elusiveness now. He has become so skilled at ducking the paparazzi that he managed to leave the practice field here Monday morning without being stopped for a single interview.
But he did pause outside the Cowboys' weight room to talk about the strange things going on in Green Bay where Packers management has acted as if it's the greatest burden to bring Brett Favre back onto the roster.
In fact, Packers president Mark Murphy released a bizarre statement Sunday when Favre was added to the active roster, saying, in part, "Frankly, Brett's change of mind put us in a very difficult spot.
"Having crossed the Rubicon once when Brett decided to retire, it's very difficult to reorient our plans and cross it again the other direction – but we'll put this to our advantage."
Romo, raised a Packers and Favre fan in Burlington, Wis., was careful not to criticize the Green Bay organization for their handling of Favre's return.
"I try never to judge anyone else. Until you have walked in their shoes, you can't possibly know all the answers," Romo said. "Brett Favre has to do what he knows is best for Brett Favre.
"It's like I said the other day. He's like Rocky. He's got a little left in the basement, and he knows he's got a little bit left. The Packers are doing the right thing by saying they will have competition for the job because competition is always good for everyone.
"But I don't see how anyone could ever say they are better off without Brett Favre. That's simply not true."
Maybe Romo will get to play against his one-time idol a final time Sept. 21 at Lambeau Field. Maybe not.
But the contrast between the real Favre and the guy who could be the next Favre couldn't be any more stark.
While Favre fights for his job and his suddenly tarnished legacy, Romo has to be the most settled in quarterback with only 26 starts under his belt in the history of football.
Hey! More Joe Berger ink! …
Five views of offensive lineman Joe Berger
Joe Berger’s only game action last season was in the fourth quarter against Washington in the regular-season finale.
1The reserve guard from Michigan Tech has made, according to coach Wade Phillips, a big leap from last season and could well make the team as a backup again.
2At 6-foot-5, 311 pounds he fits the prototypical wide-body size of an interior offensive lineman.
3He has been with the Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins and Cowboys since he was drafted by Carolina in the sixth round of the 2005 draft.
4He went un-recruited coming out of high school and was a walk-on at Michigan Tech. He didn’t give much thought to playing professional football until his senior season when NFL scouts started to follow him.
5Berger earned his college degree in mechanical engineering and aspired to work on and design cars. He owns a pair of used trucks that he works on. "When I bought them they worked so I really don’t know how good of an engineer I am," he said.
Hard Knocks – Wednesday Night
In honor of our attending Jimmy Kimmel’s show tonight, here is Kimmel vs. Eminem in hoops