The United States reaffirmed its place atop the basketball food chain, claiming its first gold medal at the FIBA World Championships since 1994 and officially qualifying for the 2012 Olympics with a 81-64 win over Turkey.
There are hostile crowds, and there is Sinan Erdem Arena in Turkey. ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla likened the noise on the telecast to Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium...times five. Early on the Turkish crowd didn't disappoint, drowning out the names of the U.S. players during introductions and rocking the arena with deafening noise in the first quarter. But after trading leads with the Turks early in the first quarter, the U.S. pulled away, finishing the quarter with a 22-17 lead and never looked back. As a result, the amped up Turkish crowd could never get back into the game.
Kevin Durant -- gee, haven't heard that name before -- was a big reason why. The newly crowned international hoops king poured in 28 points (including 7-of-13 from three-point range) and set a U.S. record for most points in a tournament while playing all but 42 seconds in the final. Durant is virtually unguardable in international play. The short three-point line is the equivalent of a chip shot and when defenses do get to him he gets into the lane and uses his 7-foot-5 wingspan to effortlessly drop in mid-range shots.
"The beauty about Kevin is he's pure," said USA coach Mike Krzyzewski. "You know, he's not trying to do anything except play basketball and get better. I loved coaching him. And he learned how to be a really great international player in the last five weeks, which will help him become an even better NBA player."
Durant's dominance aside, this U.S. team wasn't as prolific as other versions. Only Durant, Lamar Odom (15 points) and Russell Westbrook (13) cracked double figures against Turkey. The difference was the D. The swarming U.S. defense forced ten turnovers in the gold-medal game and held Turkey to 36.4 percent shooting. Only Hedo Turkoglu (16 points) registered double figures for the Turks.
Andre Iguodala emerged as a defensive stopper at the wing position while Westbrook and Derrick Rose wreaked havoc in the backcourt.
"I think this was the best defensive team [I've had], said Krzyzewski. "I believe that because they knew they needed to play defense to win. The Olympics, our guys played great defense, too, but they could outscore you also. This team, we weren't necessarily sure we could outscore somebody, but we had to defend them.
"We want to always establish defense," K continued. "We think we can play a different style of defense than any other country. We just have to learn a little bit (about the) new rules, because the NBA, you can't have a help side as much. But once they learn that, with our athleticism, if we're committed to it, then we have a weapon that can help us win."
The 'B-Team' tag chased the U.S. from Las Vegas to Turkey and each player used it to fuel their run through the world championships.
"I think that was everybody's motivation," said Durant. "Especially coming back to the United States, people who really doubted us and said it was going to be tough for us to win. We came out and proved everybody wrong. We worked hard in practice, were focused in. Coach made sure he did a great job of letting us know what we were doing out here. All we came to get was a gold. To play for a great coach like that, that really knows what he wants is a great feeling. So it was exciting to come out here and win and also to prove people wrong."
Team USA's win sets up what will surely be a controversial question: which players should represent the U.S. in London? Each member of the 2010 roster is right to argue that this team should return intact. America's young guns gelled a lot faster than expected and adapted to international play extremely well over the last two weeks.
But can USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo turn his back on the members of the 2008 team that restored the U.S.'s basketball credibility? The most likely scenario is that the 2012 team will be a blend of both rosters. There are some obvious roster moves that can be made. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard will replace Tyson Chandler, Danny Granger, Stephen Curry and either Eric Gordon or Kevin Love. But there will be a dogfight for the remaining roster spots.
"We now have a deeper pool," said Krzyzewski. "We have guys who were champions, a different team in the Olympics, and now guys who are world champs. There will be new players that will emerge. That's a good problem to have."