Commentary

Team USA: Colangelo's legacy as much at stake as Wade's and Anthony's

Originally Published: June 23, 2008
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

Team USAAP Photo/Russel A. DanielsJerry Colangelo, left, has gold ambitions along with Coach K, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.

CHICAGO -- They made the announcement in the old Little Italy section of this City of Broad Shoulders, some three miles from the former Polish section of town where Mike Krzyzewski grew up, just across the street from a small urban plaza where a statue of Joe DiMaggio stands proud and tall.

The site, officially known as the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame, holds Rocky Marciano's heavyweight championship belt, Matt Biondi's 11 Olympic gold medals, and countless photographs of Jake LaMotta being honored for his heritage and his accomplishments.

The name on the building reads "Jerry Colangelo Center," the same building where that very same Colangelo, Team USA's managing director, sat in June 2005 with an assemblage of past Team USA coaches and players to conduct a roundtable discussion on how best to fix the American national program.

"What struck me as I look back was how passionate Jerry West and Michael Jordan spoke about representing their country," Colangelo recalled Monday before taking the dais and making official the identities of the 12 players who will attempt to fulfill the quest Colangelo signed up for in the aftermath of the Athens Olympics debacle: restoring America's place atop the basketball universe by winning the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.

Well, Jerry now has his team, the 12 players who will determine whether a piece of gold-medal paraphernalia from this summer's Games will make its way into one of the first-floor display cases one flight below the conference room where Colangelo made Monday's announcement.

Even though this could be termed Coach K's team or LeBron's team or Kobe's team or the Redeem Team, it is really Colangelo's team -- with his legacy at stake here more than anyone else's.

And make no mistake, even though this could be termed Coach K's team or LeBron's team or Kobe's team or the Redeem Team, it is really Colangelo's team -- with his legacy at stake here more than anyone else's.

It was Colangelo who, three years ago, polled nearly every U.S. national team coach since 1960 and heard the coaches give equally broad endorsements to Krzyzewski and Gregg Popovich, and it was Colangelo who ultimately heeded the direction of Dean Smith, the former North Carolina coach and longtime Duke rival who nonetheless wholeheartedly endorsed the hiring of Coach K.

Colangelo was the man who decided the Americans' needed a change in direction that began with a change of attitude, noting that 15 players had withdrawn because of injury or disinterest in 2004 before the Americans came up with their final 12-man roster for Athens. Colangelo decided he wanted to go only with players who were 100 percent committed.

When Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan gave him their "been there, done that" speeches, Colangelo left them alone. When Gilbert Arenas and Bruce Bowen reacted grumpily to being cut from the 2006 team, he jettisoned them from the program. And when Amare Stoudemire wavered in his focus by admitting he was worried what impact playing for Team USA would have on his long-term financial health, Colangelo decided having one fewer big man was a small price to pay for having an extra body in Beijing who was buying into the bigger concept.

In the end, he and Coach K were left with one final roster choice, and they made the already second-guessed selection of Tayshaun Prince over Tyson Chandler to fill the 12th spot on a roster that also boasts Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Jason Kidd, Deron Williams, Michael Redd, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh and Chris Paul. (The roster will be submitted to the USOC on Monday, although changes because of injuries can be made until Aug. 9. A one-day minicamp will be held Saturday in Las Vegas, and the team will assemble for good on July 20. )

"We're a team already," Krzyzewski said. "One key word that we couldn't use in the past, continuity -- we have that. And we have relationships, too. As a result, we're hitting the ground running."

Wade and Anthony, two members of the ill-fated 2004 team, joined Colangelo and Krzyzewski for the announcement and spoke of wanting to redeem themselves -- not only for the disappointment of 2004 but for losing at the 2006 World Championship in Japan, too, when the Americans' biggest weaknesses -- a shortage of size, especially in defending the pick-and-roll, and an inability to stay poised when playing from behind -- snuck up and bit them in their semifinal loss to Greece.

"We was young pups, and we had an opportunity to see a team that wasn't a team," Wade said of his '04 experience, when the Americans entered with an overall Olympic record of 109-2 yet lost three times. "We spoke on the plane coming back, and we decided we wanted to be respected again as a team."

"We felt like we were thrown to the wolves," Anthony said.

This is the same Anthony who boldly guaranteed a gold medal back on Team USA's first day of practice in 2004, the same Anthony who came shirtless to his postgame interviews in Athens to show off his tattoos, the same Anthony who -- as he's always quick to note -- shouldn't be blamed too much, along with Wade and James, for the three losses in Athens because all three were buried deep on Larry Brown's bench.

"We really had not a clue as to what we were getting into," Anthony said.

Well, this time they do, and the physical play, the suspicious refereeing, the legalized offensive goaltending, the jet lag and the fatigue -- none of it will surprise them. Still, the man who put this team together is the man who ultimately will be judged as a Team USA success or failure.

Wade and Anthony can try again in 2012 if they like.

Colangelo? His three-year commitment expires when the team plane gets back from Beijing, and he has not entertained questions looking beyond that date. He is the national team czar, for lack of a better term, and whatever happens to this team in Beijing will stick to his legacy -- the way his name was affixed to the building where the newest Team USA, whether it turns out to be a Dream Team or a Nightmare Team, was unveiled.

Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com Insider. He has covered the U.S. senior national team since the 1996 Olympics.

ALSO SEE