The U.S. men’s basketball team was carefully constructed around budding 21-year-old NBA superstar Kevin Durant, a plan that has worked to perfection so far in the 2010 FIBA World Championship. Durant scored a U.S. team-record 38 points on Sept. 11 as the Americans took down Lithuania to advance to the championship game against Turkey on Sept. 12.

Two days after Durant laid 33 points on Russia, the spindly forward scored 24 points in the first half as the U.S. jumped to 43-27 halftime lead. The NBA’s reigning scoring champion launched three-pointers at will and blew by defenders with ease. Team USA’s other four starters combined for 6 first-half points as they rode the hot hand of Durant, who responded to his teammates’ challenge to be assertive.

“I was just trying to be aggressive and be myself,” Durant said in a televised interview after the game. “My teammates told me before the game to go out there and try to put pressure on the defense and I was able to hit some shots earlier that got me going a little bit. I’m just happy we’re in the finals.”

Russell Westbrook chipped in 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks while Lamar Odom added 13 points and 10 rebounds off the bench for the U.S. On a day that has become symbolic in American history, Durant’s heroic efforts were completed with the date September 11 imprinted on his shoes. Durant used the Internet to give praise to America when he posted on his Twitter page before Saturday’s game “May God bless those who were affected by the events on Sept 11, 2001….9-11-01 on my shoes guys will watch over us…”.

After his three-pointer made it 82-64 with less than four minutes remaining in the game, Durant trotted down the court, stretching the front of his jersey out so the crowd could read the letters USA on the front of his uniform.

The Americans have defended, rebounded and fought hard to make it to the final round. But maybe the man who deserves the most credit will be team architect Jerry Colangelo, who has crafted a roster featuring one of the more dynamic talents in the league.


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO