Commentary

Scrimmage squad set to be Team USA's 'guinea pigs'

Originally Published: August 13, 2007
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- Andre Iguodala knows that when LeBron James drives left he tends to pull up and shoot a jumper, and when James goes to his right he likes to take the ball to the hole.

When defending Paul Pierce, he knows Pierce's favorite move is to jab right, go left and then pull up for a jumper. With Vince Carter, Iguodala likes to get up and get physical. And with Kobe Bryant, he knows which way Bryant prefers to go, but he's not giving that little secret away.

Kobe Bryant
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesAndre Iguodala will get to D up Kobe in the red, white and blue.

"If I tell you, everybody will know," Iguodala said.

But one defensive nugget that Iguodala was willing to dispense Tuesday at a high school gymnasium a couple miles off the Strip was his practice of tapping an opposing player on the nose when that player is elevating for a jump shot -- a trick of the trade that referees rarely spot.

"It knocks guys' whole balance off," said Iguodala, whose arsenal of defensive tactics is being put to the test -- and getting enhanced -- this week as he dons a Team USA practice jersey. He is one of eight young NBA players (the others are Channing Frye, David Lee, Devin Harris, Jason Kapono, Al Jefferson, Aaron Brooks and Jeff Green) who have been selected to scrimmage against the U.S. senior men's national team in preparation for the Tournament of the Americas.

But despite all of Iguodala's capabilities as a man-to-man defender, he'll often find himself in the unfamiliar position of being asked to back off his opponent over the next several days. That's because the Americans expect to see a steady diet of zone defenses when the Olympic qualifying tournament begins next week, and the job of Iguodala and the rest of the scrimmage squad is to mimic what Brazil, Argentina and Puerto Rico are going to do.

"We're the guinea pigs," said U.S. assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo, who will be guiding the scrimmage squad over the next several days beginning Wednesday, when the senior team resumes training camp. "We're going to be getting guys comfortable with the nuances of the international game. We try to simulate what they're going to see.

"The obvious difference is there's no (defensive) 3 seconds, so they're going to play against guys packed in the lane more than they're accustomed to seeing in the NBA. In general, teams will pack it in and make us beat them from outside, because they know they can't match up one-on-one."

Assisting Carlesimo and teaching Igoudala and the other youngsters a few tricks of the international basketball trade is the newest member of the Americans' coaching staff, a guy few people outside of Canada have ever heard of. He's Jay Triano, an assistant for the Toronto Raptors and the former head coach of Canada's national team (who, by the way, took it well Tuesday when this reporter, who has been granted honorary Canadian citizenship by the Raptors' media contingent, heckled him with a chant of "traitor"). He's a sideline veteran who has seen what has worked against and what has frustrated American teams in the past.

One of his tips: When a player cuts through the lane without the ball, grab him and hold him, because the FIBA referees never call that foul, and the Americans always get particularly frustrated by it. Another Triano tip: Temporarily forget everything you've learned about avoiding a hand check. Yes, it's illegal under international rules, but no, the refs won't call that one, either. And if you doubt Triano on that one, he'll point to the tape of Canada's quarterfinal loss to France in the 2000 Sydney Olympics when French guard Makan Dioumassi manhandled Steve Nash for 40 minutes, forcing him into nine turnovers.

And this one: "On a screen-and-roll, in the NBA if I roll early and run into a defender, that's called a foul. Internationally, if I roll early and run into the defender, it's called a good screen," Triano said.

The inability to defend the moving screen-and-roll was a big part of the Americans' downfall last summer in their semifinal loss to Greece at the World Championship, and coach Mike Krzyzewski and team director Jerry Colangelo have highlighted that one shortcoming as the key thing that needs to be improved.

So that will be one area the team focuses on in its scrimmages. Another will be end-game clock management, which is a whole different ballgame under international rules because only coaches, not players, are allowed to call timeouts, and a timeout will be granted only in a dead-ball situation.

"There ain't a timeout to advance the ball. There ain't 'take a 20 and let's talk about what we're going to do.' They've got to go play," Carlesimo said.

The timeout rule was something Bryant forgot about in the final seconds of the Americans' intrasquad scrimmage last month, highlighting the need for the American coaches to do a better job of communicating the international rules differences to the players.

Traditionally, one of the trickiest differences for the American players to get accustomed to is the basket interference rule, whereby a ball can be tipped off the rim by a defender or dunked through the net by an offensive rebounder. (In the NBA, the ball cannot be touched until it comes off the rim on its own.) After spending their entire lives leaving the ball alone when it's on the rim, American players always have found it difficult to reprogram their minds and bodies to go after those balls, so Carlesimo ran a drill Tuesday trying to get players acclimated to the rule, challenging them to knock a free-throw attempt off the cylinder after the ball had already hit the rim.

According to Carlesimo, no one was able to execute the move successfully.

Still, however, it's early, and chances are an American will pull off the "legal goaltending" move before the Tournament of the Americas ends. Four years ago, it took eight games for someone to do it, Elton Brand finally pulling the move off by knocking Daniel Santiago's shot off the rim in a 36-point victory over Puerto Rico.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.

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