August 2, 2013.
Sofia Deaflympics 2013.
Men‘s Basketball Semi-finals.
Venezuela 88 – USA 85.
Yes, the mighty have fallen. Yes, the Golden Boys are no more. Yes, finger-pointing will happen. Yes, it aches to know how our men (not boys – MEN…) let a tight game slip from their fingers and ended a 50 year streak of victories in the Deaf Olympics.
That said – it is time to face the realities of International Deaf Basketball.
Today, almost each country represented in the Deaflympics have their players/coaches’ expenses fully – covered. Each player/coach receives a salary, live together to train, compete and prepare. The majority of teams that earn a medal will be compensated to the tune of 30 thousand dollars up for each individual.
Teams are well-fed, well-prepared, battle-tested and in peak physical and mental condition when they tip-off against the USA. They have developed team chemistry to the tune of 6 months to a year beforehand. They have incentives to win – the income earned will supplement their regular team pay as well as the prestige involved in earning a medal for their homelands.
Compare it to what we offer here in the United States of America.
Home of the free…Land of the brave…and where the richest basketball organization in the world DOES NOT offer any financial help in the way of expenses or training, nor does the government offer anything even remotely similar to what our opponent’s countries offer.
The USA Team is not exactly hastily assembled. The USA Team management identifies the best players available, approaches them and gauges their interest/commitment. They also offer try-outs, make selections and place players accordingly (National/Development).
Once a team is set at 12, with a list of alternates ready to replace…the toughest part of the game begins: The fundraising part.
It is not easy to fund-raise in the Men’s Basketball (or the women’s, for that matter) arena. The Deaf Teams are not well-known nationwide, nor are they heavily publicized, nor are they able to get donations at the snap of a finger or the push of a videophone remote button.
Last I was aware: it was about 5 thousand dollars per player to fund-raise to go to Sofia. Many made it by the seat of their pants, several dropped out because they were unable to raise that much, a good few flat-out said “no” to fund-raising 5K.
So that is the main reason why the USA Men’s team only two weeks ago had most of the players playing together for the first time ever in their lives – many were introducing themselves to each other, perhaps after a few runs down the court.
Would today’s loss have happened if the players had fantastic financial support behind them, which would have enabled the team to have at least two years competing together at least 4-6 times a year anywhere in the USA (outside of the USADB, that is) as a team to develop team chemistry, identify strengths and weaknesses and to be well-prepared for the International arena? I say “no”.
So that’s why I give props to Coach Keith Westhoelter, his assistants David, Mike Yance and Brendan Stern for bringing this team as far they have, against all odds against teams that have been prepping together for 6 months or more and each aiming at that big golden target on each USA-jersey wearing man’s chest.
Today’s loss is tomorrow’s Gold.