Teamwork the guiding principle for U.S squad
Less than a month before the World Championships tip off in Japan, Team USA's chemistry is in perfect harmony -- thanks to Mike Krzyzewski's emphasis on teamwork and unselfishness, writes Andy Katz.
LAS VEGAS -- No one on the U.S. National team wants to play 40 minutes.
Good. National team coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke said no one will at the FIBA World Championships in Japan next month.
But ultimately, once the roster is finalized from 15 to 12 before the team's first game on Aug. 19, everyone may have a legitimate shot to get significant minutes.
Krzyzewski said there won't be set starters. There won't be a traditional bench.
And, get this, everyone is on board. The players are in perfect unison over the purpose of the upcoming trip to Asia. They all want to win the gold, and the minutes they play, shots they take and points they score simply do not matter.
The roster of 24 (Ohio State signee Greg Oden isn't on the official roster because of a wrist injury but was invited to be a part of the Olympic program for 2008) was officially dropped down to 15 on Tuesday.
As ESPN.com reported Monday, the two players who were essentially told they wouldn't be going on the exhibition tour through Las Vegas (Aug. 3) and then to China and Korea were Charlotte Bobcats rookie Adam Morrison and Seattle point guard Luke Ridnour. Phoenix forward Shawn Marion hurt his left knee over the weekend and told ESPN.com Monday that he was taking himself off the trip so he could get the knee evaluated. USA National Team managing director Jerry Colangelo said that, as late as over the weekend, the plan was to take 16 players to Asia, and Krzyzewski said Marion would have been on that roster of 16.
Knocking the roster down to 15, 16 or whatever random number they wanted would have been tougher if Kobe Bryant (knee), Paul Pierce (elbow), Michael Redd (getting married), Chauncey Billups (wife having a child) and Lamar Odom (death of child) had been available.
While the remaining players on the roster are all potential players for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, other players who have been cut or not invited to tryout are also still available for the '08 Games. For now, however, the 15 who will workout in preparation for the competition in Japan are: Carmelo Anthony (Denver), Gilbert Arenas (Washington), Shane Battier (Houston), Chris Bosh (Toronto), Bruce Bowen (San Antonio), Elton Brand (L.A. Clippers), Kirk Hinrich (Chicago), Dwight Howard (Orlando), LeBron James (Cleveland), Antawn Jamison (Washington), Joe Johnson (Atlanta), Brad Miller (Sacramento), Chris Paul (New Orleans/Oklahoma City), Amare Stoudemire (Phoenix) and Dwyane Wade (Miami).
They all want to play, but not more than their share.
Krzyzewski said that with the long NBA season, and the competition occurring in August, no one would expect their bodies to be in shape to play a full 40. Once again, that works out perfectly.
"I don't want to be out there that long," Wade said. "I want to take my turn out there, make a difference and go back to the bench and cheer for the next guy."
Wade said playing 30-plus NBA-level minutes wouldn't make sense for this team. The U.S. will play like the Phoenix Suns on offense and Duke on defense. That's why having players accept quick bursts matches perfectly.
"We just need to play hard for 10-15 minutes, none of us will play 40 so we don't have to worry about being tired," Arenas said. "We all know our roles. If they say come out and take a charge and be the charge man that's fine. I'll put my body in front of anybody."
Bowen, the elder statesman on the squad at 35, said there's no reason to even think twice about players taking turns on the court since "there's nothing that you can do to change it. That's the way things are going to be so you better get on board."
Bowen said if the U.S. plays defense the way Krzyzewski envisions, then he would liken it to the Jerry Tarkanian-coached UNLV teams he went against when he was at Cal State-Fullerton in the Big West.
"I remember the pressure defense, denying the pass and when you go backdoor there is someone there to help," Bowen said. "That kind of pressure creates opportunities [on the offensive end]."
Bowen, who played in France, said the NBA has been a detriment for players trying to learn the international game. He said the NBA milks a skill of a player and leans on it, but in the international game you can't just shoot over three players. There is also no 3-second call in the trapezoid lane, so trying to go one-on-one against a defense can be more difficult with more help-side defenders.
"The NBA contributes to the selfish players and in Europe they're moving the ball, not just the isolation," Bowen said. "There is a detoxification that goes on here."
For the most part, the players haven't had much trouble adapting to the international game or the new team-oriented style of play. Other than making sure, as Wade notes, that the team does not commit the traveling violations that doomed it in 2004, and remembering, as Arenas points out, that players can't call timeouts, the players have been able to focus on basketball and teamwork.
"It's been great to see some of the leading scorers like LeBron James, Gilbert Arenas and Dwyane Wade making the extra pass," Brand said.
Krzyzewski jokingly said he may start crying when talking about how much Marion would have fit in with the way they want to play. He called him the quickest second jumper in the NBA and, with his international experience of playing on three different national teams, he will be missed. The beauty of this program, not just this team, is that Marion can play in 2008 or even next summer in Venezuela if the U.S. needs to qualify for the Olympics -- and it will if this team doesn't win the World Championships in Japan.
Marion's knee limited him from playing next month while Stoudemire's knee was strong enough to continue. Stoudemire missed all but three games last season after having microfracture surgery on his left knee in October. But Stoudemire did play earlier this month for Phoenix in the Las Vegas summer league, and showed no signs of slowing down this past week at training camp with the national team.
"The summer league helped me see what I have to work on," Stoudemire said Tuesday. "This has been a blessing. I've been improving every day. I should continue so that by the time the tournament starts I'll be in great shape."
Stoudemire said shape and timing is what needs to improve. But assuming he's healthy, he should be in the final 12. The same is true for Hinrich, who missed some of the final two days of practice with a right hamstring tweak. He said he expects he'll be fine by the competition but the staff was being cautious with him.
The whole feel-good theme isn't phony. There is genuinely a harmony with this program from the top on down. And the commitment from the players isn't transparent. Even if the U.S. wins gold in Japan, the entire program of players -- 24 or however many it expands to -- will be a part of a 10-day training camp and exhibition game in July of 2007 in Las Vegas.
On the first day of training camp, Krzyzewski gave the team a motivational speech. For some players it was their first time hearing his tone. For others, like Brand, it was a refreshing visit from his collegiate past.
"I felt like we were ready to go out and play in the ACC Tournament title game," Brand said. "I was ready to lace them up and go right there."
Sure, they haven't played a game yet, but the first week of training camp couldn't have gone better, save Marion's injury.
"We're here to prove something to the world," Stoudemire said. "We all really bought into it."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.