You may have missed this at the end of Rio, what with all the talk of broken bathrooms and fibbing swimmers, but after the United States men's Olympic basketball team won its third consecutive gold medal with an anti-climactic 96-66 thrashing of Serbia on Sunday, assistant Olympic coach Jim Boeheim called Kyle Lowry, "the best team player out of everybody."
Better than Kevin Durant, who scored 30 points in the final game, including 24 in that lopsided first half? Better than three-time gold medalist Carmelo Anthony, whose experience and leadership allowed them to escape some early scares?
Better than Kyrie Irving, Paul George, Klay Thompson?
"He just really bought in and was a great leader and gave everything he had every time he went out there," explained Boeheim. "That was important for our team."
Boeheim's assessment, backed by several players, is a nice start to explaining the welcome culture change brought when Mike Krzyzewski and Boeheim – whom Coach K has deemed his "co-coach" took over as Olympic coach after the debacle of 2004 in Greece, where the U.S. got only a bronze medal.
"The Redeem Team" as they were called in Beijing, actually became an operating philosophy in the two Olympics since, as players accustomed to star on the court readily accepted supportive or even secondary roles in the name of gold.
On a U.S. team that was deemed less talented than previous ones due to the absence of notable stars like Steph Curry and LeBron James, Lowry, the former Villanova star, was the latest poster child for that. He took just five shots in the final game, but played intensely over his entire 22 minutes – really, every time he was inserted into a game. After Argentina ran off to a 19-9 lead at the start of their quarterfinals matchup with the U.S., Lowry and Paul George entered the game and triggered a clampdown on defense, fueling a 28-2 run that swung the game.
In the gold medal game, Lowry collected five rebounds, five assists and scored five points. His numbers were hardly what sparked Boeheim's comments. The tone he set, as a star player who nearly singlehandedly knocked off Cleveland in the NBA eastern conference finals, was the point. After some early scares, the U.S. team steamrolled over Argentina and Serbia to their third straight gold.
"That's what great teams do, figure a way out to get continuously better," Lowry, now 30, said afterwards, clutching the game ball. "And that's what we did."
Yeah, it's been a nice year to be from Villanova. A national championship for an unselfish team that even Big 5 rivals could grudgingly appreciate. And a gold medal for one of its own, a player who also exemplifies that type of basketball.
"He was our unsung hero," Coach K said afterwards. "He ended up being incredibly valuable, on the court and off the court."