COLOGNE, Germany - The U.S. men's Olympic basketball team did more than merely lose; it was embarrassed and exposed in its most lopsided defeat since adding NBA players in 1992.
Losing an exhibition game for the first time when using professional players, the Americans were outclassed by lightly regarded Italy yesterday, never even making it close in the fourth quarter of a 95-78 upset.
With the Athens Games set to start in 10 days, the loss was a forceful reminder the Americans have much work to do if they expect to back up the bluster of Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, who guaranteed the team would win the gold medal.
The Americans were sloppy with the ball and couldn't handle Italy's zone defenses and three-point shooting. Italy not only made 15 shots from beyond the arc but also showed superior ball movement and poise.
"They're going to be in for a lot of lessons for the next few weeks," U.S. coach Larry Brown said. "It's a young team, and it's a different game internationally."
But the problems have not just come on the court. Before the team's win over Puerto Rico on Saturday, Brown suspended Iverson, LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire because the three were late for a team meeting.
Anthony led the Americans with 19 points yesterday, and two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Tim Duncan added 15 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
Italy, whose roster is filled entirely by players from that country's league, was led by Giacomo Galanda's 28 points and Gianluca Basile's 25.
"We took them by surprise," Italian coach Carlo Recalcati said. "They didn't expect us to be such good shooters. They didn't know us."
While the Italians were fifth at the Sydney Olympics, the United States is unbeaten at the Summer Games and in Olympic qualifying since NBA players were allowed in 1992, taking four straight gold medals. It will seek a fifth in a row at the Aug. 13-29 Athens Games.
But the United States is sending its youngest team to the Olympics - the average age is 23 1/2 - since the door opened for NBA players.
"We need more time together," new Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. "These teams play together for years and we have to put it together in a couple of weeks."
At the 2002 world championships, an American team with NBA players was beaten for the first time, 87-80, by Argentina. The U.S. team went on to lose twice more in that tournament and finished sixth.