July 21, 2006

U.S. looks for different kind of team

By Jared A. Taylor
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

Recognizing that the “Dream Team” concept has come and gone, USA Basketball officials have hatched a new procedure to select the squad that will represent America in the Olympics.

The first test began Wednesday when Team USA’s training camp opened in Las Vegas, more than two years before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball’s senior managing director, said that, unlike in the past, when some players joined Team USA only for the Olympics, a group of 24 NBA players has made a three-year commitment to the national team. He said that USA Basketball had little trouble convincing players to sign up.

“Previously, I would say the tail was wagging the dog, and you had to pull guys to participate,” Colangelo said in a conference call last week with reporters. “In this process of one-on-one meetings, it was obvious they got it in sharing a vision.”

Four of the 24 players won’t be participating when training camp begins. The Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant had knee surgery on July 14. Boston Celtics’ Paul Pierce will have elbow surgery in August, and the Lakers’ Lamar Odom withdrew for personal reasons, after his son died. Former Duke star and Orlando Magic draft pick J.J. Redick is out due to a back injury.

The team’s healthy players will train through July 25, then reconvene on July 31. The top 15 players will travel to China and Korea to prepare for the FIBA World Basketball Championship, which begins Aug. 19 in Japan. The U.S. must submit a 12-man roster, but players who aren’t participating in the World Championship will still be on the national team roster and eligible to play in the 2008 Olympics.

The USA Basketball national team is modeled after other countries’ teams. Players train together for years to develop chemistry, Colangelo said.

“The fact is that many of the successful international teams have a national team, and they have continuity,” he said. “When you have that fluid situation, it makes sense because that was something we were lacking.”

The U.S. won a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, it was the first time since the first NBA-laden “Dream Team” premiered at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that a team of NBA players didn’t win the gold.

Emphasizing the team as a whole is integral to developing chemistry and success, said Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who coaches at Duke University.

“Before you had a different team every time, and you only picked 12. (This time) they’re all on the team - nobody’s an alternate and everyone has equal footing,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re going to have to share the ball and share responsibility with everyone else on the team.”

Krzyzewski said he wouldn’t change anything about his leadership style, even though he’s primarily working with professionals and not college players.

“As far as my communication with them, I’ll do everything the same - look them in the eye, tell the truth and be honest,” he said.

Though most of the players compete against each other throughout the NBA season, they’ll be able to unite on the international stage, Krzyzewski said.

“I think it’s something that they are going to like to do,” he said. “That’s one of the things about having a team like this, they can develop friendships and gain knowledge.”

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