Olympic men's basketball: Hard times for ex-Ute Bogut

Published August 14, 2008 3:48 am
The Australian team is struggling despite the presence of the star
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BEIJING - Forgive http://www.sltrib.com/olympics/ci_9721073" Target="_BLANK">Andrew Bogut for feeling as if his world has turned upside down all of the sudden.

The former All-American center at Utah came into the Beijing Olympics full of confidence, fresh off signing a new contract with the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks that could be worth $72 million and believing that his native Australia had a chance for a top-four finish in the men's basketball tournament.

Not even halfway home, everything is in chaos.

The Bucks traded away two of their best players while Bogut was gone, and the Australians have stunningly fallen apart on the floor at the Beijing Olympic Basketball Gymnasium, losing badly to Croatia and Argentina - "we couldn't play any worse," Bogut said - before finally bouncing back for a 106-68 victory over Iran in a must-win game on Thursday.

Coach Brian Goorjian had called it "D-Day" for the Aussies, knowing that a loss to Iran ultimately would keep them from the quarterfinals for the second straight Olympics. Now, they have at least a slim chance of advancing, but they probably have to beat Russia and the Jazz's http://www.sltrib.com/olympics/ci_9720289" Target="_BLANK">Andrei Kirilenko on Saturday.

"It's been very demoralizing the last couple of days," Bogut said, "just walking around the village seeing the Argentines walking around all happy, and the Croatians, and so on. Obviously, they deserved the wins, there's no doubt about that, but it's kind of demoralizing in that sense."

Surprising, too.

Bogut has been living a mostly charmed life at least since he joined the Utes nearly five years ago, progressing from a starter at the 2004 Athens Games to an All-American as a sophomore who led the Utes to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament and the No. 1 pick of the NBA Draft.

"He was a role model for me," said Australia's Patrick Mills, the standout guard at St. Mary's who considered joining the Utes before they signed point guard Tyler Kepkay instead. "And I guess not only for me, but every other young Australian basketball player coming through."

Since joining the Bucks, the 7-foot center has grown into one of the NBA's most dependable and versatile big men. That versatility figured to really help at the Olympics, but Bogut has been far from a force. He's averaging just 9.0 points and 4.0 rebounds so far - and that was after scoring 10 points with seven boards against Iran.

Crowded in the post, Bogut took only three shots in the loss to Croatia, then shot just 3-for-10 against Argentina. He has absorbed loads of criticism back home, something Goorjian doesn't think is fair.

"I have said all along that the country's success is going to be based on how [other members of the team] play," the coach said, "because I don't think you can have a guy with you for just a week and play two games and come into this tournament and then have the whole country go, 'Hey, this boy is supposed to carry us.' He's a 23-year-old guy who's growing with the team and I think that he has got better in each game."

Bogut missed much of his team's short preparation for the Olympics while finalizing his new deal with the Bucks, then missed some time - as well as an exhibition against Team USA - with a sprained ankle. He said many people don't understand that the Australians haven't been together as long as other teams, and agreed that he can't do everything.

"Obviously, we're down," Bogut said. "We've played a lot of bad basketball. Everyone's down on us back home, everyone's down on us here. Basketball's kind of forgotten about. And we deserve that, in a way. So we're trying to keep our group together of 12 guys. They're the most important guys - outside of media, outside of parents, brothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends. It's the 12 guys in our group who are here every day going through this, so if we just keep sticking to it, things will turn the corner, hopefully."

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