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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Who’s to blame for the U.S. failing to medal at U-19 tourney?

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Russia

It would have been easy for Paul Hewitt to blame his team's failure on some of the players who declined invites to the U-19 World Championships, but the U.S. coach refused to do it.

Asked by DraftExpress.com's Jonathan Givony whether a more formidable roster might have helped the U.S. avoid Friday's disastrous 79-74 quarterfinal loss to Russia, Hewitt curtly responded, "We had enough talent."

In truth, the blame for the U.S. failing to medal falls on the shoulders of both those who were in Latvia the past two weeks and those who weren't.

Hewitt fostered an atmosphere of overconfidence among his players by taking them to the beach on the eve of the Russia game because he felt they needed a day off from practice. The team itself responded poorly to the challenge from Russia, reverting to isolation plays in the half-court offense and surrendering 12 3-pointers on defense as a result of too much gambling for steals. And yes, whether Hewitt wants to publicly admit it or not, his college coaching peers who refused to allow their top players to participate left the U.S. with an amazingly underwhelming talent pool.

While starters Jeremy Lamb, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Patric Young likely would have made the roster had the U.S. been able to select from its full complement of players, many of the other players would not have.

Would you rather have North Carolina's Harrison Barnes or Stanford's Anthony Brown? How about Duke-bound Austin Rivers or Villanova's James Bell? And do you think the U.S. could have used Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb or any of Kentucky's talented incoming freshmen?

Regardless of who wasn't on the team, however, Hewitt is right about one thing: His U.S. squad had the talent to defeat a Russian team that only qualified for the medal round because Brazil lost to Argentina in its final game of group play. {YSP:MORE}

Lamb scored 21 points in Friday's loss and averaged a team-high 18.6 points per game in the tournament, but few other U.S. players performed with that level of consistency all seven games. Hardaway Jr. in particular faltered against Russia, missing all five of his 3-point shots.

What will be interesting now will be to see how the U.S. team responds with its medal chances already dashed with two games left to play. It will be a test of character for a team that on Friday didn't show all that much.

"Complacency is the worse type of team killer," Young tweeted Friday. "Once that sets its roots there is almost no coming back. Wasn't our best day but we still are going to represent the US the best we can."

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