USA completes sweep

Published 6:43 pm Friday, August 25, 2006

Shane Battier had a quick response when he was asked to define his role on Team USA.

“See these floor burns?” he said, motioning to a nasty red spot on his forearm. “That’s my role.”

Battier doesn’t make many highlight shows. But he’s become an important part of the U.S. team as it prepares for the second round of the FIBA world championships.

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The U.S. completed a five-game sweep of Group D with a 103-58 victory over Senegal on Thursday night. The Americans face Australia in the second round Sunday in Saitama. A victory in that game could set up a showdown with Germany and Dirk Nowitzki in the quarterfinals.

Battier is averaging 5.8 points per game through five games, all victories. He has 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Those numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet. But numbers don’t begin to tell the story of the 27-year-old’s contribution — unless they start tallying bruises.

On a star-laden team, Battier is the guy most likely to incur bodily harm.

The Americans’ 121-90 victory over China here this week featured a typical Battier performance. He scored the U.S.’ first five points and didn’t make another bucket the rest of the night.

But afterward, his teammates were buzzing about how Battier stood his ground when China’s Yao Ming barreled through him. Yao, who was called for a charge, and Battier will be teammates with the Houston Rockets next season.

“I love playing with Shane because he does all the little things, like taking charges, chasing the ball, playing great defense,” U.S. forward Elton Brand said. “When you look at this guy, he may be scoring seven, but he’s responsible for numerous points as well as good defense. I really appreciate what he does.”

Brand played with Battier at Duke in 1998 and 1999. Back then, Battier was more star than the workman. In 2000-01, he was the consensus National Player of the Year after leading Duke to the national title.

Battier’s scoring average increased each season in Durham, peaking at 19.9 points per game his senior year. Vancouver picked him sixth overall in the 2001 draft.

After he averaged 14.4 points per game in his rookie season, Battier’s scoring average dropped in his second and third years, to a career low of 8.5 points per game in 2003-04.

A role player was born.

No longer considered a scorer, the 6-8 Battier found other ways to make himself useful. And that got the attention of U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski, who loved to rave about Battier when he coached him at Duke.

“Shane is the ultimate role player,” Krzyzewski said here this week.

Even on the talented U.S. team, which features star captains LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, there’s a place for a guy who knows his role.