RIO DE JANEIRO — The surprise team early in the Rio Olympics men’s basketball competition features five NBA players, four of whom have won NBA championships.
Not France. Not Spain. Not Argentina.
It’s Australia, with its impressive and unexpected victories against Serbia on Monday and France on Saturday. The Aussies’ strong start sets up a matchup against 2-0 USA on Wednesday in group play.
Against the USA, the Aussies will compete and won’t back down.
“We know Australia is going to be a tough one for us, just based on how physical they are. So, we’ll be ready for that,” the USA’s Carmelo Anthony said.
Andrew Bogut (Dallas), Patty Mills (San Antonio), Matthew Dellavedova (Milwaukee) and Aron Baynes (Detroit) have played roles to varying degrees on NBA championship teams, and Joe Ingles plays for Utah.
“We set the bar high. We want to get a medal, a gold medal. We’ve said that from the get-go, and we’re sticking to that,” said David Andersen, who played two NBA seasons.
Australia has never won a medal in the Olympics or FIBA world championships.
“We haven’t done crap over the last 20-30 years of basketball,” Bogut said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but we don’t really buy into the predictions too much.”
The matchup delivers two compelling story lines. Bogut faces his former Golden State teammates Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, and Dellavedova squares off against his former teammate Kyrie Irving, who lived in Australia as a kid while his dad played professional basketball there.
“(Facing the Americans is) the ultimate test,” Bogut said. “It’s the best team in the world, the best players in the world, so if we go out there with the right mindset and compete with them, win or lose we’ll be happy with that.”
Australia has a strong backcourt — a key component to international success — with Mills and Dellavedova. They were excellent against Serbia. Mills scored a game-high 26 points, and Dellavedova had 23 points and 13 assists.
“Delly does his job,” Bogut said. “Sometimes he’s going to score for us, sometimes he’s going to distribute the ball. But it’s a team effort. If we keep doing what we’re doing as a team we’ve got a chance.”
With 7-0 Bogut and 6-10 Baynes, Australia also has size to match up with the USA’s big men. It can score inside and out, and it is a physical team.
International basketball expert Fran Fraschilla called Australia one of six or seven teams that could medal in Rio.
“What Australia has going for it is a good core nucleus of NBA players,” Fraschilla said. “They’re a nice blend of young but experienced high-level international players. What makes them dangerous is they’re tough, smart, hard-nosed players. They have great chemistry.”
Even with a loss to the USA, Australia finishes group play against China and Venezuela — two teams it should beat if it continues to play well. Australia is in position to finish either first or second in its group.
“We’ve played together for a number of years and that teamwork builds up over time,” Dellavedova said. “World-class teams that win medals have a core group together for a number of years and we’ve bought into that.”
Courtesy: USA Today