U.S. men's basketball

Seeking golden touch

U.S. set to improve from '04 third-place finish

June 24, 2008|By Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- The roots of the 12-man roster Jerry Colangelo announced yesterday to represent U.S. basketball at the 2008 Beijing Olympics took hold here three years ago.

One year after the United States' disappointing bronze-medal finish in Athens, Colangelo, freshly minted as managing director, arranged a meeting with many prominent basketball minds in the city where he was raised.

"We shared our frustrations and dreams, and out of that came a very different selection process," Colangelo said at a Chicago news conference.

That process bypassed tryouts and culminated in a roster balancing role players and scorers: the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, the Dallas Mavericks' Jason Kidd, the New Orleans Hornets' Chris Paul, the Milwaukee Bucks' Michael Redd, the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade and the Utah Jazz's Deron Williams at guard; the Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony, the Jazz's Carlos Boozer, the Toronto Raptors' Chris Bosh, the Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James and the Detroit Pistons' Tayshaun Prince at forward; and the Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard at center.

Eschewing size for speed and girth for versatility, Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski repeatedly talked about teamwork and continuity as the benchmarks for the team's goal of regaining basketball supremacy.

Four players - Anthony (Towson Catholic), Boozer, James and Wade - watched Argentina win the gold medal in Athens, where U.S. losses to Puerto Rico, Lithuania and Argentina were its first since NBA players began competing in 1992.

Six players - Anthony, Bosh, Howard, James, Paul and Wade - played in the 2006 FIBA World Championship, in which Greece upset the United States in the semifinals of the tournament, which Spain won.

Eight players participated in last year's FIBA Americas Championship, in which the Americans won all 10 games to qualify for Beijing.

"It's a totally different culture from 2004, where we were thrown together for a week and a half and went out there and played," Wade said. "We've been together for three years. Guys have the opportunity to get to know each other.

"We were the young pups on that '04 team that wasn't a team. We said in '08 we wanted to be respected as a team."

Attempting to mirror other countries' national teams, many of which play together for years, Colangelo and Krzyzewski began a process three years ago in which long-term commitments were stressed.

The U.S. team spent 42 days together in 2006, 24 days together last year and will report to Las Vegas for a team meeting and practice this weekend. A weeklong training camp that includes an exhibition against Canada will begin July 20 in Las Vegas.

"That's where this whole culture has changed," Colangelo said.

The U.S. opens Olympic competition Aug. 10 against China.

"We've been saying for too long it's our game when it's really the world's game," Krzyzewski said. "We think we're the best at playing that game. But unless we show respect to the rest of the world that it is the world's game, we won't win."

One indication of that respect is the roster's makeup.

It includes four of the NBA's top six scorers from last season, but, in a nod to international rules, which place a premium on shooting and the perimeter game, it contains only one true center, Howard.

Boozer and Bosh are proven post-up threats. But with Prince seizing the final spot from the Hornets' Tyson Chandler, who should be one of six alternates, versatility is in. Size is out.

Krzyzewski even talked about using Anthony, Prince and James at power forward and going with lineups that feature Wade, Bryant and James together. Wade is competing despite shutting down his 2007-08 season in March because of a sore left knee.

"I feel great," Wade said.

The decision to carry three physical point guards is in direct response to the recent defeats in international competition.

"There's a variety of point guards you have to face in the international game, where you can have much more physical contact and stop a speedy ballhandler," Krzyzewski said. "It's kind of like the old NBA. We learned that. And we have to win that position. So the depth there will help us."

The only thing that will help restore the U.S. swagger is a gold medal. Anthony, who attended the news conference with Wade, acknowledged that.

"We're supposed to win," he said. "But we've disappointed. Now we're going there not just as talented NBA players, but as a talented team."

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