Nowitzki, Okulaja talk about Italy's win, making U.S. deliver from outside
Germany Sees Its Chance

By Johannes Berendt

COLOGNE, Germany -- Slam dunks. One-handed. Two-handed. Windmills. 360s. 14,281 fans screamed in delight -- the U.S. was showing it all. During the warm-ups, that is.

It would remain the only show the NBA stars put on on Tuesday.

According to Nowitzki, Brown's team isn't unbeatable, but should still be considered the favorites in Athens.
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)
Some two hours and a historic 95-78 trashing later, the crowd had shifted their support to an unheralded but sharp-shooting Italian side, with "Italia, Italia" chants sweeping through the once pro-American Koelnarena. It even rained boos when the U.S. players walked off the court.

The fans' sudden change of mind symbolizes the shift of power in international basketball -- the American hegemony is over.

"The dream team myth is dead," Germany forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "It's just a selection of NBA players. They are not unbeatable any more."

The Dallas Mavericks forward, whose country surprisingly missed out on the Olympics after a shocking early exit at last summer's European Championships, has spotted a way to defeat the once-mighty Americans.

"You have to keep them away from the basket and force them into long-distance shots. That's where they lack quality."

Italy, a potential Olympic foe, hit 15-of-35 3-pointers to hand the U.S. their biggest loss since NBA players participate in international competition. Still, they remain the number one favorite to win it all in Athens.

"Many star players decided to stay at home but they still have enough quality players. They should still be good enough to win the gold medal," Nowitzki assessed ahead of his country's scrimmage with the U.S. on Wednesday.

Germany forward Ademola Okulaja believes the U.S. has two weaknesses.

"They lack pure shooters like Ray Allen or Allan Houston, who can make you pay if you leave them open for half a second," said Okulaja. "And they might get problems with the European and Olympic rules."

Okulaja would count "athletic abilities" among their biggest strengths, but added that no European top team "has to be afraid of them anymore."

Italy, for once, looked far from being intimidated. Stellar defending, great team basketball and deadly perimeter shooting gave them an uncontested win.

"I think tonight was a wake up call for us as a young team," said Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson. "I honestly think we needed something like this to understand it's not going to be easy in the (Olympic) tournament."

For coach Larry Brown, the slaughtering "was a great opportunity to realize how good basketball is played in Europe and all over the world."

And finally, Lamar Odom put a positive spin on the loss as well.

"We needed it," said Odom. "It will put our chests back in."