Krzyzewski squads rise to challenge even without experience
POSTED: Jun 27, 2016 9:14 PM ET
UPDATED: Jun 28, 2016 7:42 PM ET
USAB 2016 Announcement
NBA TV covers the announcement of the Men's 2016 U.S. Olympic team.
NEW YORK — Once again, the U.S. Men's Senior National Team has, by necessity, a lot of new faces. Only two of the 12 Americans -- Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant -- set to play in Rio this summer were on the squad that won gold in London in 2012.
Another four won gold at the World Cup in Spain in 2014, but half of the team has never played in an international competition on the senior level. The 12 players have combined to represent the U.S. just 11 times previously, and Anthony, making his fourth Olympic appearance, accounts for five of those 11 times.
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and Senior Team head coach Mike Krzyzewski named a pool of 30 players in January, adding the Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard a couple of weeks later. And by the time the NBA season was done, they basically had to go through the whole list before coming up with 12 guys who were both willing and able to play in Rio.
|USA roster, Senior National Team experience|
"There were more challenges this time around," Colangelo said after the team was formally introduced on Monday, noting that injuries and personal conflicts will always keep some guys from playing. "This year, it was exacerbated because of circumstances in Rio. The good news is that our system has worked to perfection, in terms of depth. And I think it illustrates the kind of depth we have."
Really, only 11 of the 12 players came from the January pool. The Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry, who wasn't on the original list, was added because of the need for a second point guard.
This is the first time since the 2006 World Cup -- the last competition that the U.S. didn't win -- that Colangelo and Krzyzewski are only taking two point guards on their roster. Along with LeBron James, point guards Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook (all National Team vets) are the most notable players who chose not to participate this year.
"We made a determination that we have enough people that can handle the ball that we're going to go with two," Colangelo said. "But we lost so many point guards along the way to injury and decision. That was a challenge."
More challenges await. Krzyzewski said that the biggest will be "how quickly will we adapt to one another, because you only have a limited amount of time. We have six guys who have never played for our staff, so we need the help and the leadership of the six guys who have. We're a very versatile team. I'm anxious to see how we all mesh."
USA Basketball: Kyrie Irving
NBA TV's Jared Greenberg speaks with Kyrie Irving who has been selected to the 2016 U.S. Men's National basketball team who will compete in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Krzyzewski has won gold with new players before. In fact, the 2010 World Cup team had nobody with senior-level international experience. It had Durant, though.
This year's competition may not be as strong as it has been in the past. Spain has given the U.S. a tough challenge in the gold medal game of each of the last two Olympics, but its core is on the wrong side of 30. Pau Gasol will be 35 in July, Marc Gasol is recovering from a broken foot, and Serge Ibaka won't be on the roster.
Brazil is the host and the team that has come the closest to beating the U.S. (in pool play in 2010) in the last 10 years, but its best players are also older and slower. Both France and Canada have younger NBA talent, but only one of the two nations will earn a bid out of the Manila qualifying tournament in early July. Serbia also needs to qualify and got thumped by the U.S. in the 2014 World Cup final. Lithuania plays strong and physical, but can't match the Americans' speed.
USA Basketball: Paul George
NBA TV's Jared Greenberg speaks with Paul George who has been selected to the 2016 U.S. Men's National basketball team who will compete in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
No team can, really. Anything can happen in 40 minutes and it only takes one bad night for the U.S. to lose its spot atop the basketball world. But so far, the Colangelo-Krzyzewski system has survived every time one or more of its best players has decided not to play in the last 10 years. The talent pool is several layers deeper than that of any other country.
As it has in the past, the U.S. will try to win with its athleticism, looking to play at a fast pace, with pressure defense and the ability to put five shooters on the floor at the same time.
"We have a lot of shooting," Colangelo said. "We have a lot of size. We're long and we have guys that can play two or three positions."
The U.S. roster has only two true centers. But where they're most talented and longest is on the wings. In fact, as the team was introduced to a group of kids at the Dunlevy Milbank Center in Harlem on Monday, it was noted that Durant (a nominal small forward) is the tallest guy on the team.
USA Basketball: DeMar DeRozan
NBA TV's Jared Greenberg speaks with DeMar DeRozan who has been selected to the 2016 U.S. Men's National basketball team who will compete in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
And while other nations must lean heavily on their best players, the Americans -- no matter who's on the roster -- can afford to play guys in short bursts, knowing there's always another NBA starter to call on if one or two guys are tired. That's one reason why the U.S. can still get a commitment for five weeks of work from some of its best players.
"It's never too taxing," Klay Thompson, one of the four players who played on the 2014 team, said. "You play 20 minutes a game, max. You only play 10-15 games."
The U.S. will open training camp in Las Vegas on July 18 and play five exhibitions in the States before traveling to Rio. The gold medal game is Aug. 21.
"Talking with a lot of the guys, they really say that Coach K does an unbelievable job of managing rest, managing our bodies," Paul George said. "So it's a no-brainer when you think about it, long term. I got a heck of an opportunity to play under a Hall-of-Fame coach with some guys that's going to be Hall of Famers and to do something I've always wanted to do as a kid."
It's never too taxing. You play 20 minutes a game, max. You only play 10-15 games.
– Klay Thompson
The U.S. has won the last four major international competitions, the World Cup in 2010 and 2014 and the Olympics in 2008 and 2012. It has a 45-game winning streak and is 52-1 under Krzyzewski, who will be coaching the team for the final time this summer.
The team's infrastructure -- the coaching and support staff, along with the schemes on both ends of the floor -- has provided some measure of stability and continuity since Colangelo took over the program in 2005. And the U.S. is, once again, the clear favorite to win gold. But, as it has in the past, it will have to win with a new mix of players.
"We're not trying to be 2012 or '08 or the Dream Team or any team between that," Durant said. "We're just trying to be us and come back with the gold."
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