Posted Sep 4 2010 11:00AM
ISTANBUL -- After a pair of non-competitive games and a day off, the U.S. national team got back to work on Saturday, in preparation for the elimination rounds at the 2010 FIBA World Championship. And there was a clear theme during their intense two-hour session, their first practice in eight days.
Communication was the word of the day, because the lack of it was one of the U.S. team's chief concerns as they went 5-0 -- unbeaten, but far from perfect -- in pool play.
"In the last two ball games, you knew you were going to win and you wanted to really fast forward into the medal round," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after practice. "And what happens is you stop talking to one another on the court. And then you're not as animated. It's still a game of being connected, and you're connected primarily when you're talking to one another."
Communication on defense is always critical. But it takes on extra importance in international play, where the best teams run offenses with five players and the ball constantly in motion. A defense that does not talk will quickly be a defense that is lost.
"These teams are well-coached and they run all their sets all the way through," Kevin Durant said. "They have a lot of shooters that stretch the floor, so if you don't talk, you can get burned."
Defensive communication goes well beyond calling out screens. All five players must be talking and working together, so that the roll man is picked up quickly and the shooters aren't left alone. Rotations must be quick, and being a step slow will cost you two or three points.
Of course, the importance of communication is not limited to the defensive end of the floor. The U.S. offense has been stagnant at times, in part because they weren't talking as they brought the ball up the floor.
"We've been coming down, just dribbling the ball, and waiting to call a set instead of running some motion," Krzyzewski said, noting that early offense was another point of emphasis on Saturday.
Many of these American players aren't used to being vocal though. Along with a lack of international and big-game experience, that's one of the challenges of bringing a young team to the World Championship.
"It's different roles and situations that you're put in when you play USA Basketball," Tyson Chandler said. "So we've got to get guys out of their comfort zone."
"I know for myself, I was a little nervous when I first got here to talk it up," Durant admitted. "But as time goes on, these guys make it easier."
Krzyzewski puts a positive spin on the lack of communication, saying that it's also a result of players focused on doing the right thing individually.
"It's not meant like 'I don't want to talk,'" the coach said. "It's like 'I am talking, and I'm talking to myself. Here's what I'm supposed to be doing.' And we need to get them outside of themselves. And they will do that. They'll be a very enthusiastic, hungry group when we play Angola."
Angola (2-3), who they will face on Monday (11 a.m. ET, ESPN) in the round of 16, will not necessarily provide much of a challenge to their defensive communication. It's a team that plays a lot of one-on-one basketball, lacking ball movement.
But at some point over the next week, the U.S. will be in a tight situation late in a game against a team that runs an efficient offense, really putting their willingness to talk to the test. And communication may very well be the difference between success and failure.
"That's a concern, because when you're in a tough dogfight, you go back to instincts," Chauncey Billups said. "And [for some], instincts are to be quiet. But we're trying to change that. And at the end of the day, I think we really have no choice when we get into those dogfights that we're about to be in this week."
Rudy Gay, who suffered a slightly strained groin in the first half of Thursday's win over Tunisia, went through the entire practice session on Saturday.
"It was tight more than sore," Krzyzewski said. "He did everything. We came into the practice saying if it's just tight, it will loosen. If it gets sore, take yourself out. He never took himself out."
And Gay has no plans of resting over the next eight days.
"I plan to play through it during the Championship," he said, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me, so I can't miss it."
Krzyzewski said that he will go with the same starters on Monday that he had in pool play: Derrick Rose, Billups, Andre Iguodala, Durant and Lamar Odom. But his substitution pattern will be different than the one he used against Iran and Tunisia.
In a one-and-done situation against stronger teams, every possession takes on extra value. So Krzyzewski plans to press more defensively. And that will mean each player will be on the floor for shorter stints.
"Our guys won't be able to play as many minutes," Krzyzewski said.
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