Updated: June 25, 2014 at 9:04 am
Chris Egi was feeling courageous. His Canadian basketball team, a prohibitive underdog, were hanging close to a heavily favored United States team playing on its home soil.
The crowd at the Olympic Training Center had fallen quiet. Canada, that visitor from The Great White North, was dropping hints a huge upset might be in the making.
Egi turned to the U.S. bench after scoring a basket in the first quarter and offered a scowl. He wanted to inspire his teammates.
Instead, he inspired the Americans. This is not a good era to defy the world's greatest basketball power.
The U.S. stampeded Canada, 113-79, in the under-18 FIBA Americas Championship. This mauling completed a vicious smackdown of all competition in this tournament.
These are good times for basketball in America. The game was invented here and flourished in the Land of the Free when it was a relative secret in almost every other corner of the globe. For decades, America utterly dominated international basketball.
In 2004, a tidal wave of despair overwhelmed American basketball fans. The United States stumbled to a bronze-medal finish in the Athens Olympics. A team blessed with LeBron James and Tim Duncan and coached by Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich somehow found a way to lose to Argentina.
Jim Tooley serves as CEO of USA Basketball. He grimaced as he thought back to Athens.
"That was rough, yeah," Tooley said. "That was one of the lowest nights for USA Basketball, for sure. That was our step back and sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward."
The grimace vanished as Tooley remembered the just completed devastation of Canada.
"We think it's been two steps ahead, and then some," he said.
He's right. America has breezed to two consecutive gold medals in Olympic competition, and this U18 triumph traveled somewhere far beyond breezy.
Canada cut America's lead to 21-19 and for a brief moment seemed ready to keep the game exciting deep into the fourth quarter. This is when Egi defiantly glared at the U.S. bench.
But U.S. coach Billy Donovan had created a hustling, hungry team out of a group of high school superstars. The Americans were the superior passers and defenders and eventually wore down the Canadians, who lacked a bench.
Justice Winslow led the Americans with 20 points. Once the Canadians got the Americans' attention, the visitors had no chance.
Egi will have his nights, but this wasn't one of them, even if he scored 18 points and seized 13 rebounds. He's a rugged, wise 6-foot-8 power forward who turned down Stanford, UConn, California and Vanderbilt to play for Tommy Amaker at Harvard. He hopes to study economics and win four straight Ivy League titles.
"We live in a country that is on the uprise in basketball," Egi said in a quiet voice as he watched the Americans celebrate their title. "Eventually we'll get to that level, but right now we're not there yet."
The Americans are already there.
On top of the world.