By BRIAN MAHONEY LONDON (AP) -- As the shot fell through the net, Kobe Bryant held up three fingers on each hand. It was his third straight 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, enough for the U.S. men's Olympic team to finally put away stubborn Australia. Yes, all's fine with Bryant, and the Americans' gold medal hopes, as well. Bryant silenced his critics and broke open a tight game with six 3-pointers in the second half Wednesday night as the U.S. advanced to the semifinals of the London Games with a 119-86 victory over Australia. "Somebody made him mad. I could see it in his eyes," American Kevin Durant said. "I wanted him to kind of turn it on and that's what he did." On a night when LeBron James had the first Olympic triple-double by a U.S. player, the story was Bryant's awakening from his Olympic slumber. The five-time NBA champion has even said this team could have beaten the Dream Team, and on the 20th anniversary of that squad's gold-medal win, he put on the kind of show that makes his claim hard to dismiss. Bryant scored all of his 20 points after halftime, finally delivering the kind of game expected of him in London. He had insisted his time would come, and none of his teammates ever doubted it. "I kind of knew what button to push with him. I was talking to him at halftime and in the third quarter and I guess I pushed the button. He woke up and to see that, I've been on the other side of the ball and had that situation before," teammate Carmelo Anthony said. Bryant, a top-five scorer in NBA history, brushed away Anthony's attempts to take credit as easily as the questions he's been hearing in London. "He was just saying, 'Let's see what we see during the season.' But by that point, I was already revved up," Bryant said. James had 11 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists for the Americans, who advanced to their third straight Olympic semifinal meeting with Argentina, which beat Brazil earlier Wednesday. Deron Williams added 18 points, Anthony had 17 and Durant 14. The Americans beat the Argentines 126-97 on Monday in the final game of pool play, yet another night they didn't need much from Bryant, who came in averaging just 9.4 points and hearing whispers that something must be wrong with him, though both he and his teammates kept assuring people there was no problem. This time was different -- eventually -- after Bryant misfired on all four shots in the first half. "Just kind of searching for something to get me going, for something that would activate the Black Mamba, as Coach calls it," Bryant said. That came when Australia scored the first 11 points of the second half, cutting the Americans' lead to three after back-to-back 3-pointers by Joe Ingles. The U.S. lead was only six before Bryant, who had never gotten in an offensive rhythm in London and just minutes earlier had committed another puzzling offensive foul, finally broke out. He made a 3-pointer, then batted away a pass, chased it down along the left sideline and pulled up for another 3 that made it 70-58. James followed with a basket that pushed it to 14, and the Americans never let the Australians get much closer. Bryant made sure of it. He finished 6 of 10 behind the arc, making three straight in the fourth quarter as part of a 17-2 run to blow it open, the crowd chanting "Kobe! Kobe!" before he finally missed on a ridiculously long attempt before calling it a night. Patty Mills scored 26 points and Ingles had 19 for Australia, which had the misfortune of running into the U.S. in the quarterfinals for the second straight Olympics. "The difference in the game was their transition buckets and 3-pointers, and Kobe got a little bit sniff," Mills said. "And for great teams, that's all they need and they stretch it out." Even the Australian fans were cheering for Bryant as he walked to the locker room after a postgame interview. First, he knocked fists with the Aussies' kangaroo mascot, wearing boxing gloves on his hands. Bryant sure knocked out the Australians. Bodies fell and blood flowed in a physical first half, the Americans taking plenty of hits but delivering them as well, such as the one that sent Australia's David Barlow to the bench with a bloody nose that took a while to control. But the spirited play brought out the best in Bryant, who insists he's content taking a lesser role with other, much younger scorers such as James, Durant and Anthony willing to carry the load. He said the same things in Beijing and came through with 20 points in the gold-medal game, so the Americans know they can count on him to rise to a challenge. They expect another one from Argentina, which beat the U.S. in 2004 on its way to the gold medal, a loss the Americans avenged before winning gold in Beijing. Russia plays Spain in the other semifinal. The crowd on the first night of action at the North Greenwich Arena included NBA Commissioner David Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, who have said they may prefer the Olympics be limited to players 23 and younger in the future. First, they saw why fans want to keep seeing America's best -- and what everyone expected from Bryant all along. "You see it all the time, but that was the first time we've seen it here," Durant said. "He got so upset and when he does that he's in another world."
Drew Gooden was nearing the end of his second 10-day contract with the Wizards in the 2014 season when he went off for 21 points against Brooklyn.
It was a game that changed his career, led to being signed to the team for the remainder of that season and ending his career as a Washington Wizard two years later. “My career was totally reborn as a veteran leader on the Washington Wizards,” he said. “And that’s something I never would have thought would come full circle.”
And now? Gooden will serve as the game analyst on NBC Sports Washington’s Wizards broadcast this season. NBC Sports Washington announced on Wednesday he will join new play-by-play announcer Justin Kutcher as part of the Wizards' game broadcast team. Chris Miller will return in his role as sideline reporter.
“It’s a dream and I never thought in a million years I would have retired a Wizard and that out of all my teams that I played for, that Wizards would be the favorite organization that I played for, never thought I would be a color analyst for NBC Sports Washington,” Gooden said. “All of this is a dream.”
And while Kutcher may not have the same playing resume that Gooden does, he promises to bring the same passion Gooden does to broadcasts.
During the early days of his career, Kutcher wasn’t just the voice of (and practice player for) the Boston University women’s basketball team. He was such a passionate fan that he was the one making the most noise on the team bus after a big win or a big loss. Now, after decades in the business, he’s not sure he’ll go to that extreme – but Wizards fans can expect him to be “a fan who’s calling the game,” he said. “I say that about myself all of the time. I think of myself as just this incredibly lucky person that gets to call a sport that I love. When I have a reaction, it’s a genuine reaction. So, I’ll keep everything professional, but I’ll get excited.”
Kutcher has 17 years of experience as a play-by-play announcer, having spent the last seven years at Fox Sports where he led national coverage of NCAA basketball and football, the NFL and MLB. Prior to FOX Sports, Kutcher served as a play-by-play announcer for ESPN for four years. During that time, he led live coverage for a variety of sports, including basketball, football, baseball, softball, volleyball and hockey, across professional, college and high school leagues and conferences. He also appeared on studio shows during his tenure with ESPN. In addition to FOX Sports and ESPN, he has also called collegiate events for CSTV, now CBS Sports Network, for two years, as well as BTN, and contributed to MLB.com digital programming.
“I have known Justin since he was a runner for us at FOX Sports,” said Joe Buck. “He’s gone from working hard behind the scenes to one of the best, young voices in sports. Wizards fans are getting a great broadcaster and a better person .”
Here’s five more fun facts about Kutcher and Gooden.
1. Kutcher’s worked the past five Westminster Dog Shows. “I get more ticket requests for that than any other event I go to,” he said. But, at first he wasn’t sure he was going to stick with it. The first year, he said, was a little tough. “I called my dad after it airs and he said that it was my mom’s favorite thing that I’ve done.” But, he stuck with it. And now? “I love it,” he said.
2. His favorite thing in DC is … the breakfast at Ted’s Bulletin. “They have a breakfast burrito that I get, I eat two of them at a time and people can’t believe it,” he said. Oh, and also his family. His family in the area includes a 3-year-old nephew, who when asked for real estate recommendations in the area, declared “you can live at our house!”
3. Meanwhile, you can find Gooden at his favorite crab shack. “Quarterdeck in Arlington is my favorite, favorite restaurant,” he said. In the two years he’s known about the crab spot, he’s eaten there, he estimates, “800” times.
4. Good news for Wizards fans: He thinks the Wizards will be a team everyone sleeps on – and that’s great for them. “They’re going to have the opportunity to surprise a lot of people early,” he predicted.
5. Kutcher expects Rui Hachimura to … “be one of the steals of the draft.” Kutcher covered the new Wizard as a play-by-play announcer during Hachimura’s college career. “I would not be surprised if you see Rui average 15-18 points per game and close to 8 rebounds per game. I think he’s that type of player, he’s a really good kid, when I saw the Wizards drafted him I said that’s a great, great pick,” he said.
Though the maturation of the G-League has brought the NBA closer in line with MLB and its minor league farm system, there has been one noticeable element missing for those of us who follow the two sports closely. In baseball, multiple media outlets publish top prospect lists both league-wide and team-specific, yet the equivalents are nowhere to be found in basketball.
Prospect rankings are a great window into the future and they are fun to revisit years later to see who was right and who was wrong. But, so far, they haven’t become widespread in basketball.
The reason why may be rooted in semantics. Generally, basketball players are considered prospects before they are drafted. After they join teams, they just become regular players.
Part of that perception is simply because NBA players can impact their teams at a much younger age. While it is very rare to see a 19-year-old in the majors, it is commonplace in the NBA.
The Wizards, though, may be the perfect team to get this started with. They have a collection of players that are now out of college but have yet to establish themselves in the professional ranks. They are essentially prospects by baseball's definition.
So, in the interest of doing something new here, let's rank them...
1. Rui Hachimura, F
Strengths: midrange shooting, offensive versatility
Areas to improve: three-point shooting, passing
The ninth overall pick this past June, Hachimura is the highest draft pick the Wizards have selected since Otto Porter Jr. in 2013. He is 21, but young in basketball years because he didn't pick up the sport until Age 13. Yet, with three years of college under his belt, he comes in with the experience to likely make a difference right away. And with the Wizards' current roster state, he should have a big opportunity for minutes and shot attempts as a rookie.
Hachimura appears to have several NBA-ready skills, particularly on offense. He makes smart decisions with the ball in his hand and can score at all three levels. His outside shooting needs to be more consistent, but he can knock it down enough to be a threat. Defensively is where he will need to grow the most, but the potential seems to be there for him to develop until a versatile player on that end of the floor.
Passing is another area he can improve. He didn't record many assists at all in college or in the Summer League.
2. Troy Brown Jr., G/F
Strengths: rebounding, passing
Areas to improve: outside shooting, turnovers
Though Brown was drafted one year before Hachimura, he is still a year-and-a-half younger. He also didn't crack the Wizards' rotation until late in his rookie season. That makes him still very much a prospect as he enters his Age 20 campaign looking to make a much bigger impact in his second season than he did in his first.
The good news for Brown is that the minutes should be there. At this point he looks like at-worst the second small forward behind C.J. Miles and he should have a chance to battle for the starting job in training camp. With Isaiah Thomas' checkered injury history (he only played 12 games last year), there is a good chance Brown sees time at point guard as well, maybe even some starts there. We'll see.
Brown's passing and rebounding are up-to-speed for his size and position, but he needs to cut down on the turnovers and improve his three-point shot. Though he dominated in his brief time in the Summer League, he still only shot 40.6 percent from the field. Also, the Wizards could really use a leap from him on defense because he has a relatively high ceiling on that end of the floor and most of their players do not.
3. Moe Wagner, C
Strengths: outside shooting, free throw shooting
Areas to improve: defense, rebounding
The path to minutes isn't quite as clear for Wagner, who is probably going to be stuck behind Hachimura, Davis Bertans and Thomas Bryant in the frontcourt. But the way he can crack the rotation is by hitting his threes, something he was not able to do as a rookie for the Lakers last season or in the 2019 Summer League for the Wizards.
Wagner presents intriguing long-term upside because of his shooting and his knack for getting to the rim off pump-fakes. But he needs to learn how to affect more shots around the rim, even if he can't block shots. And his rebounding could use some improvement, as his 9.8 rebounding percentage last season wouldn't even stand out for a wing player, much less a seven-footer.
4. Admiral Schofield, F
Strengths: outside shooting, team defense
Areas to improve: defense against taller players, ball-handling
The expectations should be low for Schofield in his rookie season, despite the fact he played four years in college and has an NBA-ready frame. Most second round picks don't make much of an impact early on and he is slotted to be on the outside of the rotation looking in.
Schofield's fastest way to NBA playing time is through his defense and three-point shooting, the two biggest reasons the Wizards drafted him. If he can provide toughness and an edge in the midrange, it will give the Wizards something they have lacked in recent years. And he shot at both a high percentage and for volume from three at Tennessee, and you can't have enough perimeter shooting these days.
5. Justin Robinson, G
Strengths: outside shooting, passing
Areas to improve: finishing around rim, turnovers
Like Schofield, Robinson is probably going to spend a good deal of his time with the Capital City Go-Go this season. But working in his favor is the team's lack of depth at point guard. They have Thomas, who again has some injury concerns. And they have Ish Smith, but there appears to be an opening at the third point guard spot.
Brown could fill the void and so could Jordan McRae. The Wizards could even give Bradley Beal more of an extended look running the offense. But the door seems to be open for Robinson to make an impact and early. He needs to focus on taking care of the ball, playing physical defense and making his open threes. The Wizards don't need Robinson to be a big-time scorer, but he can add spacing if he shoots from three as he did in college.
Honorable mention: Garrison Mathews, Isaac Bonga
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