U.S. set to open training camp with decisions to make

7/18/2006 - NBA

LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony battling for one starting forward spot. Amare Stoudemire competing against his NBA teammate Shawn Marion for the other.

Either of those is now possible in the new era of American basketball. While trying to rebuild his country's reputation around the world, Mike Krzyzewski doesn't have time to worry about the one a player has at home. Not even the superstars get special treatment this time.

"We're going to have to make decisions, obviously," Krzyzewski said last week. "But it would be in the best interests of the group and not because of a one-on-one situation with a player. Everybody understands that.

"It's the old thing, and it's true all the time, that you play for the name on the front of the jersey, and it will say USA. And those decisions we make will have to be done in the best interests of that name and not any individual name," Krzyzewski said.

That all begins Wednesday, when the Americans open the first of two training sessions in Las Vegas. Krzyzewski will select around 15 players from there who will travel to Asia, and the team will eventually be trimmed to 12 for the world championships that begin Aug. 19 in Japan.

There are 24 players on the U.S. roster, though only 18 will be competing for the final 12 spots. Six players won't be available because of injuries or personal reasons, including Kobe Bryant, who pulled out Saturday after having knee surgery.

Even though some players will be sent home, they remain part of the national team program through the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

"I would rather not call it a tryout because no one is going to be cut," Krzyzewski said. "Everybody who's there, even the guys who are injured or have some family matters, are not being cut from the team. They're on the team -- we'll just decide a group that we feel is better at this time based on conditioning and the competition that we'll face that will be best. That's how it will differ."

And, the U.S. hopes, so will the results. The Americans managed only a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics after a sixth-place embarrassment in the 2002 worlds on home soil. They haven't won the world championship since 1994.

That led to the creation of the U.S. national team program. Instead of selecting a team of 12 without regard to how the players fit and hoping they meshed in time, which the Americans have often done since they began using pros in 1992, managing director Jerry Colangelo interviewed candidates and made them commit to being part of the team for three years.

The group he put together is highlighted by James, Anthony and Dwyane Wade. Phoenix forwards Marion and Stoudemire join Elton Brand, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh as some frontcourt options, while rookie of the year Chris Paul and Gilbert Arenas are among the tantalizing choices at guard.

But Colangelo isn't interested in fielding a star-studded team, having watched those fail in recent years. He also sought players who would fill roles besides scoring, which is how Bruce Bowen and Shane Battier earned invitations to Las Vegas.

"We said from the get-go we were not picking an All-Star team, that we were going to put together a group of players that represent what a real team is made of," Colangelo said. "So the composition would have a lot of ingredients: Certainly scorers, certainly versatility and athletes, size, shooters that are necessary in the international game and role players. You need people who are prepared to step in at any moment and give you whatever you're looking for."

After witnessing Tim Duncan's struggles in Athens, Colangelo shied away from the traditional, back-to-the-basket center -- though he repeatedly said a spot was saved for Shaquille O'Neal if he wanted it. Krzyzewski, looking to play an aggressive defensive style, pushed for a team of versatile players.

He's got plenty of them -- and less than a month to pick among them.

"Thank goodness it will be tough to get down to the final 12," Krzyzewski said. "Those are good hard decisions to have. But we're going to try to pick a team and not just the best 12 players."

The first session ends July 25. The Americans return to Las Vegas on July 31 for four more days, culminating with an exhibition game against Puerto Rico on Aug. 3. They then head to Asia for training and exhibitions in China and South Korea before opening the world championships in Sapporo against Puerto Rico.