UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (USA)
15th appearance (15 consecutive)
Looking for a team
Once again, Team USA will be the most talented squad as far as individuals. But national team competition is all about the team. That's something coach Mike Krzyzewski will keep in mind.
It’s been six years already since the United States last won a gold medal at a world basketball competition. Everybody knew it was only a matter of time before a team made of NBA players would lose against another country. It took ten years, but it finally happened. On September 4th, 2002, history took a turn when Argentina beat Team USA in round robin play at the World Championship in Indianapolis. Including this loss, the United States are 6-6 in world competition play since that game. Nobody thought that the fall would be this spectacular.
Four years after Indianapolis and two years after Athens, USA Basketball has re-thought its program dramatically. Senior National Team Managing Director Jerry Colangelo has stepped in and is now in charge of a drastic overhaul. The man has made it clear, what he wants is a team, first and foremost. That’s why he chose some unexpected role players to go along a group of superstars. It’s now up to Mike Krzyzewski to work this out. It will be the first time that a national team coach has to cut players since the American NBA players were allowed to participate in FIBA competitions. Even though Kobe Bryant (knee operation), Chauncey Billups,Michael Redd and Lamar Odom(personal reasons), Paul Pierce and J.J. Redick (injury) have already withdrawn Coach K still must cut five players to make a 12-man team. That's not an easy task when you have these kind of players on board. And even if you want to balance the team on the floor with a role player here and there, how do you manage not to start Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Gilbert Arenas, Shawn Marion, Elton Brand and Amaré Stoudemire at the same time?
Unlike the usual, the trail to Japan will be a very interesting one. And whether he likes it or not, Krzyzewski will have to build his own team, making choices that will influence the way Team USA will play. That’s exactly what Colangelo wanted, and that’s what makes a team a true squad, with a clear hierarchy or leaders and role players. Trying to draw his own lines along the many superstars, Coach K will probably keep in mind the most important lesson the past four years has delivered to Team USA. International play and the NBA game are not only different because of a few rules. It’s a different world out there. The philosophy is not the same. The NBA may have managed to put the offence back in the game, bringing back some happiness among its fans, sponsors and players. But the FIBA game is more about defence, strategy and coaching. When it comes to very competitive teams, you don’t attack a FIBA defence like you would one in the NBA.
Therefore, first of all, you need big men who are not only big, strong and physical, but also people who usually can shoot from the perimeter and make a good pass from the high post. With Brad Miller and Chris Bosh, Team USA has those kinds of players. It’s no surprise that Miller stood out in FIBA play when he was selected at the 1998 World Championship. Second of all, to attack a FIBA defence, you need a few good shooters. Not only to stretch a man-to-man defence, but you have to respond if a zone comes up, which will surely happen to Team USA in Japan quite a few times. No such player was to be found on the team that went to Athens two years ago. This time, with specialists like Adam Morrison, or even Bruce Bowen, who was the NBA leader in three-point percentage in 2002-03 and had a 42.4 percent accuracy this season, Krzyzewski should be able to find a hot hand anytime he needs one. That’s probably a reason why Morrison will be considered and not cut right away because Coach K needs room on his roster.
Third of all, to get some kind of result against a strong help defence, you need a true point guard. That’s why Colangelo thought about Kirk Hinrich, Luke Ridnour or Chris Paul. Even if none of these players have any kind of experience in a FIBA world competition, they will adapt quicker than many others. Fundamentals will get them through. Contrary to many of his predecessors, Krzyzewski has all the tools to build a team that can win it all. Because if everything fits, we all know that, based on talent alone, this team is no match for anybody. Even though the competition was not as tough as the one Team USA will face in Japan, the 2003 Tournament of the Americas in Puerto Rico showed that when a U.S. team is made the right way and with the right people, it can beat pretty much anybody. Their performance in the final game against Argentina reminded everybody that the United States should still have an edge if they work the right way. The one last big hurdle, though, is experience. Argentina has played with the same core of players for the last five years or so. You can’t match that, even with a ton of talent. But contrary to the team that went to Athens, many of the players, including James, Anthony or Brand know what kind of environment and opposition they’re going to face. And that could make a difference in the end.