TORONTO -- A tightly-contested 87-82 win against the Dominican Republic saw an improbable comeback from the U.S. men’s basketball team, which took home the bronze medal for its win.
For Team USA’s Damien Wilkins, the feeling of putting on the USA jersey for the first time at age 35, wasn’t something he took for granted.
“I don’t want to take it off,” Wilkins said of his jersey with the red, white and blue letters displayed proudly across his chest. “To think this only comes around every four years, I see now what that feeling is for those guys who play on the Olympic team. It means the world to me.”
As an accomplished college point guard with the Wichita State Shockers, Ron Baker was no stranger to the basketball spotlight.
“It’s always fun to take an adventure,” Baker said. “I’ve been playing (in college) with the same couple guards for three years now. For me to step out of my comfort zone and play with guys I’ve never really met has been a really great opportunity.”
At the half, Team USA was down 48-35, later losing ground to be down 21 at the largest deficit of the game, the win seemed improbable, but Team USA never gave up.
The crowd stayed behind the Americans the whole time, willing them back into the game.
“I thought there wasn’t going to be anybody here for the third-place game,” Baker said, “but there was darn near a packed house.”
“We were down big, making bonehead play after bonehead play, digging ourselves a bigger hole,” said Wilkins, who finished the game with 18 points. “It seemed like a daunting task to come back, but we fought. We never gave up. We stayed together.”
“It was tough,” Baker said. “It took us about half a game to get back into our system. We just kept grinding.”
Two of the Dominicans, Manuel Fortuna and Edward Santana, played on the 2014 FIBA World Cup team that fell to the Americans, 106-71.
With 7:11 left in the fourth quarter, Wilkins hit two free throws to make it a one possession game, 71-68. A Bobby Brown layup tied the game, and, on the next possession, Wilkins made a contested shot to take the lead, 78-75.
“We kept fighting,” Baker said. “We kept defending and eventually we started to make positive plays in a game full of negative plays.”
“That’s how it was supposed to happen” Wilkins said. “We had to fight back, which is definitive of what we’re about. We fought our butts off.”
The Americans would never relinquish the lead and would head home with the bronze around their necks.
Wilkins, competing for the U.S. in his first international tournament at age 35, couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear, soaking in the moment.
“I’ve never worn the red, white, and blue before,” Wilkins said. “For me, this means everything. Wearing this jersey means everything. I’m in first place.”
“For us to bring home a medal is something that we’ll cherish forever,” Baker said.
“Any hardware I come home with from this is a gold medal for me,” Wilkins said. “I feel like I have a gold medal.”