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View from the 'ville
Thursday, June 26, 2008

By Al Myatt

From Blue Devils to Red, White & Blue

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

There is a competition which serves to unify the various fan bases which tend to be polarized by intercollegiate sports.

It's six weeks until the Beijing Olympics and the Pirate Nation will undoubtedly join the rest of the country in its support of athletes and teams which wear the red, white and blue of the United States.

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski will guide Team USA as it tries to reclaim the gold. In a sport where college kids used to be able to beat the rest of the world, the USA now relies on its very best pro players.

The USA's NBA stars had to settle for bronze medals in 2004. East Carolina athletic director Terry Holland expressed confidence in Jerry Colangelo as the man to get USA basketball back in its accustomed position of supremacy after a semifinal loss to Argentina in Athens four years ago.

Colangelo, USA Basketball Men's Senior National Team managing director, recently announced in Chicago the 12 players who will comprise the 2008 USA team, which will be guided by Krzyzewski.

Coach K's charges include Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Tayshaun Prince, Michael Redd, Dwyane Wade and Deron Williams.

Assistant coaches include Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, Mike D'Antoni of the New York Knicks and Nate McMillan of the Portland Trail Blazers.

The team was selected from a pool of 33 players in the USA Senior National Team program. Former Duke players Shane Battier, Elton Brand and J.J. Redick weren't chosen. Neither was NBA Finals MVP Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics.

"This is really the toughest decisions that U.S. basketball has had to make since the introduction of the pro players," Krzyzewski said. "Before you just selected a team and none of the players did anything but be considered for selection."

It's hard to conceive that someone among Coach K's elite group will have to settle in to a role as 12th man.

"The pool of players that we have have all made commitments and have given time, effort," Krzyzewski said. "The pool of 33 guys will still be part of the program. Really, we have more people qualified for those 12 spots than we can take. So that's what makes it tough. ... They'll all be on an alternate list."

Forging talent into a team

One of the challenges for Team USA is coming together quickly, defining roles and refining the systems that it will use in Beijing. This must be done under the framework of international rules, which have slight differences from those of the NBA. The international ball also has subtle variations from an NBA ball.

"There's so much logistically that has to be done in preparation for China," Krzyzewski said.

Conditioning will be a vital factor.

"A lot of these guys get more out of training individually or a few of them together than they would collectively as a unit," Krzyzewski said. "They know pretty much what we're going to do offensively and defensively but we'll remind them a little bit more over the next three weeks."

The team will have a camp in Las Vegas and appearances in New York prior to gathering on July 20.

"From July 20th to August 24th, there's no interruption," Coach K said. "We're fully committed, we're in shape and we're worthy to represent the United States in basketball."

Krzyzewski has been gearing his focus for the Olympics even as the departure of former top assistant Johnny Dawkins to become head coach at Stanford has resulted in a succession of changes on his Duke staff.

The Blue Devils have also brought a new athletic director aboard with Kevin White coming from Notre Dame to replace Joe Alleva, who left for LSU.

"It's all good," Krzyzewski said. "It's just taken up a lot of time."

The USA team will work out with a select team guided by Seattle Supersonics coach P.J. Carlesimo in Las Vegas. International officials will be on hand to remind and inform Team USA players about rules of the international game.

"They'll run a style that we'll have to play against and then we'll have international officials there to call it that way," Coach K said. "Last year we even had a few meetings or classes on different rules and interpretations. You have to learn a new language a little bit and try to be as instinctive as possible."

Team USA will play Canada in an exhibition game on July 25. The following day, Team USA will leave for Macao and play two exhibitions there. After that, it's on to Shanghai for more exhibitions. Exhibition foes will be Russia, Lithuania, Turkey and Australia. The team is scheduled to arrive in Beijing on August 5 and be there until August 24.

Team USA will play its first game in the Olympics against host China on August 10. There will be two pools of six teams each. Team USA will play each team in its pool for a total of five games in pool play. The top four teams in each pool will advance to an eight-team tournament format with the winner claiming the gold.

Drawing on 1992 experience

Krzyzewski was involved in USA basketball on the international level as far back as 1990. He was with the 1992 "Dream Team" featuring Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan that won the gold medal in Barcelona. That team is often regarded as the greatest collection of talent in basketball history.

"It was like a rock group representing your country," Coach K said. "It spiked interest in world-wide basketball. ... Since then, there hasn't been an event anywhere close to that that's affected world-wide basketball.

" ... This team has a chance to be incredibly unique. One is just how it's been put together. How it's been put together has shown a tremendous amount of respect for world-wide basketball. It's the world's game. It's not the U.S.'s game.

"We respect it. Not only do we respect it but we're going to allocate this amount of time, this amount of resources, this commitment to learn this game and I think the international community understands that. We've already gained a lot of respect."

The ultimate objective is to capture gold medals.

"The big thing is to (prepare) and then win," Coach K said. "But it needs to be that combination of those two things. Everyone we've selected and our coaching staff is committed to that dual effort — winning and doing it the right way — and getting the respect of the world."

In a country reeling from rising gas prices and economic uncertainty whose military presence in Iraq is viewed negatively around much of the globe, Coach K and his team of superstars have a chance to possibly put the USA in a positive light.

That will be something fans from ECU, N.C. State, North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest, Southern Miss — you name it — and, yes, Fresno State, can all pull for.

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

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06/26/2008 02:03:49 AM


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