Wednesday, October 26, 2011

USA Basketball at the Pan-Am Games

Apparently, the Pan-Am games have been going on for a while, but the men's basketball tournament didn't start until today. The U.S. will makes its television debut Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern on ESPN, but thanks to a tip from Ridiculous Upside, I was able to check out the U.S.'s opening game against the Dominican Republic this afternoon online.

A sluggish first half gave way to what became a very entertaining game, with the U.S. ultimately triumphing 77-76. The U.S. team is full of D-Leaguers, and I thought I'd give you a little breakdown of what I saw from some of the guys on Wednesday in case you, like me, would rather watch mid-level international basketball Thursday night than Game 6 of the World Series.

The good first:

Lance Thomas. The former Duke power forward was the U.S.'s best player in the first half and contributed consistently in the second half, though he struggled -- as the whole team did -- to contain Jack Michael Martinez (a nifty post player who is a lot of fun to watch) . Thomas is extremely limited as a basketball player; he doesn't have much of an offensive repertoire, and when he does go to one of his few moves, it's predictable and looks scripted and not at all smooth. Still, he's physical, rebounds well, and finishes okay, and that's probably enough in this competition.

Moses Ehambe. I've never heard of this dude before. I don't follow the D-League as much as I'd like to, I don't remember seeing him at Summer League, and I can't recall him from when he played at Oral Roberts. But he stuck a couple big threes in the fourth quarter and, at least on this day, he appeared to be the U.S.'s biggest weapon from behind the shortened international three-point line.

Jerome Dyson. The former Connecticut standout was quiet for most of the game, but scored on a couple big drives late in the fourth quarter.

Marcus Lewis. Another Oral Roberts guy I'd never heard of, Lewis preserved the victory with two blocks in the final minute, the first on a fast-break layup attempt after the U.S. had gone up two, the second on a Martinez turnaround prayer from 15 feet or so as time expired.

And now the bad...

Blake Ahearn. I've seen the former Missouri State Bear in the Vegas Summer League for a few years running, and that means that I've seen him enough to know that if he's not knocking down shots, he's more or less useless on the basketball court against decent competition. He was not hitting his jumpers on Wednesday, and while he didn't necessarily hurt the team with turnovers or by getting burned on defense, he'll have to find his stroke to justify much more playing time in this competition.

Brian Butch. The last time I saw Brian Butch, I was in the gym at UNLV two summers ago when he jacked up his knee during Summer League and had to be carried off the court. As far as I know, Butch hasn't played competitively since, so it's probably not fair to be too hard on him. The 6'11" Butch was deployed mostly as a pick-and-pop weapon on offense, but, like Ahearn, he couldn't find the range -- range we know he has from his days at Wisconsin. I didn't notice him struggling to move or anything, but then again, he was never the most mobile guy to begin with.

Those were the six guys that I found most noteworthy from Wednesday, but all 12 players saw decent run. You can take a look at the rest of the roster here.

As for what to expect from Brazil, I haven't been able to find their roster. However, unlike the U.S., other countries seem to be including NBA players on their rosters -- later Wednesday evening, I watched Puerto Rico, led by J.J. Barea and Renaldo Balkman, defeat host Mexico. (If you're wondering what Balkman was doing on Puerto Rico's roster, like I was, it turns out that his grandmother was Puerto Rican.) That means there's a good chance that Brazil could feature Tiago Splitter, a well-hyped forward who has found himself in a backup role with San Antonio now that he's finally made it over to the NBA.

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