Durant Leads Team USA to First Worlds Gold Since 1994
"We were the B-Team,'' he said. "We beat everybody. That's what we say.''
The Americans sure did. They finished off a 9-0 run Sunday at the FIBA World Championship with a resounding 81-64 win over host Turkey before a raucous crowd at the Sinan Erdem Dome. It marked Team USA's first gold in the event since 1994.
But this one was hardly considered a formality. Whether it was called the B-Team, the junior varsity or the leftovers, all the talk about the top NBA superstars not being on hand fired up the guys in red, white and blue.
"That was everybody's motivation,'' said forward Kevin Durant. "Back in the United States, everybody doubted us and said it was going to be tough for us. But we came out and proved everybody wrong.''
The Americans arrived in Turkey without any holdovers from the gold-medal winning 2008 Olympic team, including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. But, as it turned out, Durant is as good as any of those guys.
The Oklahoma City forward continued his amazing tournament with 28 points Sunday. He averaged a U.S. Worlds record 22.8 points for the event, including averaging 33.0 in the final three games, which counted the most.
"He's only 21 years old, and he's got the whole package,'' USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said of Durant, an easy choice for Worlds Most Valuable Player. "Just think what lies ahead for Kevin Durant. He's got this (Colangelo points to his head) and this (points to his heart). He's got great talent. He's just an amazing guy. I love him.''
Colangelo also loved getting another gold medal, his second in three tries since taking over USA Basketball after it had fallen in disarray. Yes, the Americans fell short in the 2006 Worlds, getting just bronze, but they bounced back with golds in 2008 and Sunday.
But wait a minute. Tanjevic also said the Turks are in better physical condition than the Americans.
"All the doubters can now take a rest,'' Colangelo said.
The Americans won with a very young outfit, which featured five players who were 21 years old. Even after the Olympians defected, the team lost a number of top players in training camp, mainly big men David Lee and Brook Lopez to health reasons and Amar'e Stoudemire to a contract issue.
"Everybody talked about who wasn't here and how we couldn't do it, and we had too many young guys,'' said guard Chauncey Billups, 33, the captain and oldest player on the team who said "absolutely'' he wants to play in the 2012 Olympics in London. "No size. They made every excuse in the world for us to not be able to win. We blocked that all out and came out and took care of business.''
When it was over, players cut down the nets. One was presented to Colangelo, who wore it around his neck.
Adding to the importance of Sunday's win, Team USA clinched a berth in the 2012 Olympics. It might not have been a certainty considering the possibility of an NBA lockout next summer meant a chance the Americans might have to qualify without NBA players.
"First thing (Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski) said to me (after the game) was, 'We don't have to do anything next summer,''' Colangelo said. "I'm with him on that.''
The Americans on Sunday ran into a wild crowd, with nearly all of the 15,000 on hand dressed in the national color of red. After the home team went on a 10-2 run to go up 17-14 late in the first quarter, the fans were as loud as any of the players could remember hearing.
"It was amazing,'' Team USA center Lamar Odom said of the atmosphere. "I was lucky to be a part of this. It was great.''
Perhaps it's no surprise Odom wasn't intimidated in the slightest. Used to hostile crowds by playing for the Lakers, Odom became the first player ever to win an NBA and a Worlds title in the same year.
Odom, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds despite getting hit under his left eye early in the game and needing some butterfly stitches, was a key in doing something about it when Turkey took the lead. The Americans, who held Turkey to 36 percent shooting for the game, turned up their defense, taking leads of 22-17 after the first quarter, 42-32 at halftime and 61-48 through three quarters.
Normally, that might take the fans out of the game. But not this crowd.
The fans continued to cheer throughout the game. They even were singing late in the fourth quarter when the outcome had long been decided.
"We are so happy as a team,'' said Phoenix Suns forward Hedo Turkoglu, who led Turkey with 16 points. "Nobody expected us to come this far.''
Turkey never had finished higher than sixth in the Worlds. It never even had qualified for the event until 2002.
The team looked emotionally spent after a dramatic 83-82 win over Serbia in a Saturday semifinal. Serbia also looked weary, losing the bronze-medal game Sunday 99-88 to Lithuania.
Overall, Turkey coach Bogdan Tanjevic called the run made by his team "amazing.'' He lauded Team USA's dominance and joked his nation is the "champion of the rest of the world.''
But most folks thought the Americans wouldn't be that dominant this summer.
"It just shows the depth of the NBA,'' said Iguodala, who played stifling defense throughout the tournament. "The NBA has a lot of great players that people never hear about.''
One of those players people will be hearing even more about is Durant. The only B-word needed to describe him in the tournament was "best."
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson