Team USA stars in tryout mode at training camp
LAS VEGAS -- Don't call it a tryout, coach Mike Krzyzewski insists.
Every player at UNLV's training complex this week is a member of the U.S. men's national basketball team, and that won't change next week when Krzyzewski and his staff select the 12 who will be in uniform for the world championships next month.
The handful of camp invitees left Stateside will still be contributors to the national team before their three-year commitment ends. That long-term togetherness -- long practiced by other nations but shunned by the star-dominated U.S. Dream Teams -- is the primary change in the Americans' approach as they attempt to reclaim dominance over the world.
"These aren't tryouts, and nobody is getting cut," Krzyzewski said. "That's the thing that's different about what we're trying to do. We're in this for the long haul. Everybody here is a part of whatever success we have."
Yet there's an undeniable spirit of competition among the 18 players vying for jerseys in this weeklong training camp -- the feeling of a tryout camp for gifted stars who haven't tried out for anything in years, perhaps never.
Only 15 players -- at most -- will travel to Asia for preparatory games in China and Korea, and just 12 will play in the world championships in Japan, starting Aug. 19. Eighteen of the 22 players in the Las Vegas workouts are hoping to make the trip, so somebody has to go.
"I know it's not a competition, but it feels like it to me," Gilbert Arenas said.
A competitive vibe is obvious in the workouts, where the players give an effort better suited to a preseason Duke workout than a midsummer scrimmage among millionaires.
During practice on Thursday, LeBron James attempted a looping underhand shot that was goaltended by Shawn Marion. When Kirk Hinrich congratulated Marion on a good block, James howled: "It wasn't no good block!"
The players wore smiles, but they clearly take their task seriously. While James and Marion don't have to worry about being left home, players such as Hinrich, Shane Battier, Bruce Bowen, Luke Ridnour and Antawn Jamison are working to prove their worth to Krzyzewski and his staff.
"If you get to this level where you're under consideration for these types of opportunities, you're the kind of player that takes practice very seriously," said Battier, traded from Memphis to Houston last week. "Somebody who works hard and treats every day like it's a tryout. So that's no different here. We're always in competition."
Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo, the club's managing director, purposely shunned the All-Star approach in choosing this roster, instead selecting many of the NBA's best complementary players.
Bowen and Sacramento center Brad Miller, who both went undrafted and earned their NBA careers through sheer hard work, are right alongside James, Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and others who have been stars practically since birth.
Krzyzewski ended both of his first two practices earlier than he expected because his players had already picked up everything he planned to teach. He has also praised their work in daily pre-practice film sessions with his 11-man coaching staff.
Two full-court workouts Thursday appeared focused and competitive. Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni taught principles of his innovative, Italian-influenced fast-break offense on one court, and Portland's Nate McMillan worked on man-to-man defense with Duke assistants Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski on the other.
"We've got to put the work in," said Bowen, the oldest invitee at 35. "We've got to learn to play the international game, because it's different. We're learning, but it takes an effort by all the guys here."
At least six of the 24 players on the roster are out of the running for this summer because of injuries or personal commitments: Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Paul Pierce, J.J. Redick, Chauncey Billups and Michael Redd.
But in another sign of the team's commitment to togetherness, Redick, Billups, Redd and Ohio State freshman-to-be Greg Oden all showed up in Las Vegas for training camp, and Stoudemire also appears to be near full-speed despite undergoing surgery on both knees during last season.
"The challenge is to try to become cohesive and get all that camaraderie right now," said Billups, who will miss the world championships to be with his pregnant wife. "I don't know if that hurts me or not in future years, but it's not about me. It's about what's best for the U.S."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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