Mike Krzyzewski fired up by comments
ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Clearly perturbed by Russia coach David Blatt's comment that the Soviet Union was the rightful winner of the gold-medal game at the 1972 Munich Olympics, coach Mike Krzyzewski launched his own counterattack Wednesday.
"He's a Russian," Krzyzewski said of Blatt, who actually holds dual American and Israeli citizenship.
Team USA will play Blatt's Russian team Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Championship, a game that took on an unusual subplot Monday night when Blatt recalled how he cried the night the Soviet Union defeated the United States after a controversial finish in which the final 3 seconds were replayed three times, with the Americans losing for the first time in 64 Olympic games. Afterward, the U.S. team refused to accept its silver medals.
But Blatt said he subsequently has come to believe that the Soviets were the rightful winners of that game. Several members of the American federation were offended upon reading his comments.
It'll be a negative from the way the U.S. looks at it forever, and should be. And it'll be in some ways a positive for those who believe in fairy tales.” -- U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski,
on the 1972 USA-USSR gold-medal game
"You know, he coaches the Russian team, so he probably has that viewpoint, and his eyes are clearer now because there are no tears in them," Krzyzewski said. "So, it's great. Whatever he thinks, he thinks. It really has absolutely no bearing on what we're trying to do tomorrow. Absolutely none. Our bearing is how we guard [Anton] Ponkrashov at point when he comes in, how we defend [Timofey] Mozgov and [Sasha] Kaun inside, that we don't let [Sergei] Monia get shots. That's our goal, so that's what our focus will be.
"And we've addressed that that game was played 38 years ago, and five of these guys are 21. So I don't think they remember it as well. It is what it is. It'll be a negative from the way the U.S. looks at it forever, and should be. And it'll be in some ways a positive for those who believe in fairy tales," Krzyzewski said.
Thursday's game will actually happen on the same exact date, Sept. 9, that the infamous U.S.-USSR match took place in '72.
Krzyzewski did not watch the game when it happened, as he was in the U.S. Army manning a field artillery unit at Camp Pelham in South Korea, 2 miles south of the demilitarized zone that still separates North and South Korea.
One member of the USA Basketball support staff, Mike Bantom, was a member of the 1972 team. His comments on what Blatt said were diplomatic: "He's entitled to his opinion. I don't agree with it, but he's entitled to his opinion."
The Americans went through a fairly light practice Wednesday, with Krzyzewski explaining that the No. 1 priority is to avoid any injuries, and priority No. 1-B is to come into Thursday night's game strategically prepared.
Lamar Odom will continue to start at center, but Tyson Chandler expects to see a bigger role in having to defend against the 6-foot-11 Kaun and the 7-foot-1 Mozgov, who will play for the New York Knicks next season after signing a three-year contract earlier this summer.
"I think the team is really going to need me defensively if they force it down low," Chandler said. "Most of the European teams we've played so far have had big guys that float around the perimeter, but this is more of a more traditional team with big guys that bang, set picks, roll to the basket, rebound, do dirty work down low.
"Ask for help," Odom said. "Some players, they're going to have an advantage. The advantage that we have is our team defense, to be able to swarm. It took Wilt Chamberlain years to win titles, right? Teams would swarm him, make him give it up, make him beat them with the pass, try to get it out of his hands as much as possible. So we'll try to do the same thing against their Wilt Chamberlain."
The Americans will also be at a size disadvantage at the power forward position, where Andrei Vorontsevich, who plays professionally for CSKA Moscow, is 4 inches taller than his U.S. counterpart, Andre Iguodala.
So it is to be expected that the U.S. team will press in the backcourt and near midcourt as much as possible, not only to try to force turnovers but to slow the Russians from getting into their offensive sets. The Russians run high pick-and-rolls and side pick-and-rolls on a majority of their offensive possessions.
"Their average height is 6-8, they'll be the biggest team we've played against, and their center position has been an amazingly productive position," Krzyzewski said. "Kaun and Mozgov, they've combined for 24 points and 10 rebounds a game, which you'd like from any center position. And then there's just the fact that they play a real physical brand of basketball. We have to be ready for them.
"They're a little bit like Lithuania, and I thought Lithuania knocked us back in our first game in Europe. We had our worst quarter, we started the game 3-for-26, and it took us away from our focus," Krzyzewski said. "We can't allow that to happen in this game. We have to be focused. It's a different type of game, we just have to adjust right away to it and not wait."
Chris Sheridan is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.