US basketball team face questions after World Cup flop
Will loss of prestige spark NBA stars to recommit for next year's Olympics?
Deprived of the likes of LeBron James and thrown together at the last minute, a young United States team always looked vulnerable at the Basketball World Cup - and so it proved.
USA Basketball's long winning streak in major competitions stretching back to 2006 - which yielded three Olympic golds and two world titles - came to a shuddering halt in a 89-79 quarter-final loss to France on Wednesday.
Yesterday, the US suffered their second defeat, losing 94-89 to fellow fallen favourites Serbia in a meaningless classification match.
With the defending Olympic champions already qualified for Tokyo 2020, the debacle in Dongguan, China, will likely raise pressure on the US to lock in big stars for next year or risk missing out on Games gold.
"We know how much each guy sacrificed to come and spend 39 days away from home right now," the Brooklyn Nets' Joe Harris said of the inevitable talk about the lack of A-listers.
The writing had been on the wall even before the World Cup began. Numerous elite players either opted out or were injured, among them James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis.
The words of Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum, another who withdrew, proved prophetic: "I think other guys looked at it like, 'Why would I want to go potentially be the face of what could be a losing roster?'"
Coach Gregg Popovich named a squad of second-tier stars, who lost a warm-up game to Australia - ending a run of 78 consecutive US wins in major competitions and exhibition games.
In only their second match, they trailed against the 17th-ranked Turkey, before squeezing to victory in overtime.
Then followed more convincing wins over Japan, Greece and Brazil.
There was always a feeling, however, that the US could be in trouble against a top team.
And so it proved against a big France side led by the towering Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz.
It remains to be seen which big American stars will make themselves available to defend their Olympic title next summer, but the loss of national prestige in China could provide the spark that convinces some to recommit. - AFP