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Tuesday, August 5, 2008 | America invented basketball, but to reclaim superiority at Beijing in the 2008 Olympics, USA Basketball has taken the drastic step of emulating the foreign model.

Of course, it’s a model that never should have become so foreign

Yes, the 2008 U.S. roster has more talent that includes Kobe Bryant and a 23-year-old LeBron James, who has a more mature game than he had in 2004 at Athens when the United States was fortunate to bring home a bronze medal.

But more important than iconic talent are skilled athletes that pass the ball in a team game and play with fundamentals. Point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams and outside shooting from Michael Redd will open the floor for Byrant and James.

Those elements were missing at the 2004 Olympics and at the 2002 World Championships with a sixth-place finish.

The 2004 Olympians were led by run-and-gun Allen Iverson. The United States went 5-3 as gold medalist Argentina and European teams beat the Americans at their own game. Prior to 2004, the United States had only lost twice in Olympic competition n both times in gold medal games in 1972 and 1988.

But in the last couple of decades, year-round AAU basketball has developed too many Allen Iversons. It’s also why the NBA can be so ugly to watch these days.

“AAU ball is about having a clock and scoreboard,” said Eric Musselman, the former NBA head coach and University of San Diego alumnus. “What is missing in basketball today is kids working on skills. That’s why we see our Olympic team struggle at times. In Europe, it’s all about the individuals understanding spacing, passing the ball and ball handling.”

Musselman was in town recently when his son took part in the first of two Hoopology camps sponsored by 24-Hour Fitness at Alliant University. The second camp is Aug. 18-21 for boys and girls ages at Alliant’s Sportscenter.

Hoopology is a scientific-sounding name, but maybe that’s what kids need to hear to get back to the game’s simple concepts.

“Kids are spending 80 percent of their time playing games and 20 percent of their time training,” said Jason Perkins, the Director of Hoopology. “We’re trying to turn that model around. We’re here to change it to 80 percent training, emphasizing skills and fitness, and 20 percent playing games.”

Perkins is a former UC Riverside basketball player. He was a walk-on, which means he got by on developing fundamentals to compete against more talented athletes.

He began the concept of Hoopology for basketball instruction at a 24-Hour Fitness in San Ramon. One of the San Ramon facility members is Musselman, who coached the Golden State Warriors when Perkins was the director of the Warriors’ youth camps.

Next to enter the picture was Carl Liebert, the CEO of 24-Hour Fitness. Liebert, who played basketball with David Robinson at the Naval Academy, liked Perkins’ Hoopology concept. He brought Perkins under the 24-Hour Fitness umbrella with a plan to go national.

“Carl loves basketball and teaching it at a grass roots level,” Musselman said. “That’s why he’s so into doing what he can do to help kids become better basketball players.” 

Fentriss Winn, a long-time San Diego high school boys and girls coach and former San Diego State women’s assistant coach, is the Director of Hoopology in Southern California. 

“The high school season is 25 to 30 games from November to March, but then kids play 70 to 80 games with their club teams outside the high school season,” Winn said. “When kids are 8 to 13 years old, they should spend more time on development.

“For kids to go to these elite tournaments around the country, it costs about $3,000 to $4,000. They would be better off staying home working on their game and playing pickup games. They should be focusing on development and not winning and losing games.”

The United States opens pool play Sunday against China. Later come games against Greece, Spain and Germany as the U.S. tries to earn a berth in the quarterfinals. The gold medal game is Aug. 24.

The 2008 U.S. Olympians have been dubbed the Redeem Team. It’s a takeoff on the Dream Team name when American basketball stars Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan won the gold medal in the 1992.

That reflected a time when Johnson, Bird and Jordan grew up playing and practicing the American game the way it was meant to be played.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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