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Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Crumbs from the Table of Team USA

I'm still waiting for truly interesting news to emerge from Team USA. It has been pretty boring (hey look, Andy Katz was right about the roster!), to be honest. How many "everyone has such a great attitude" articles do you really have to read?

But a very thoughtful TrueHoop reader named Dan sent me tons of links to Team USA stories, so I read them all and a few others, and pulled out some morsels that interested me.

By the way, Dan also told me he heard about a "treatise" on international basketball that Gregg Popovich is said to have written by way of preparing the American staff. Anyone know where I can learn more about that or read it? I'd be fascinated.

Random Bits and Pieces

Favorite quote from Mike Krzyzewski: "We're trying not to be idiots."

Favorite quote from Shane Battier, who says the same Polish jokes are coming out that he heard when he played for Coach Krzyzewski in college:
"A day didn't go by at Duke where he didn't remind us of his Polish heritage. He's told some of the same jokes."

They're making it sound like Amare Stoudemire is back, but I say let's watch a while first--because I'm not sure how much he can help if he isn't explosive, and I have yet to see a recovered microfracture patient who was explosive.

Look: humble basketball player! Must not be in the NBA yet. It says here that Greg Oden initially turned down Jerry Colangelo's invite to join the squad because he felt he wasn't ready as a basketball player.

Top players like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, who played a lot of playoff games, will have some serious miles on those tires by the time training camp rolls around in October. The championships wrap up in September.

Here's a handy little chart of which other nations are playing, and where the competitions take place.

Has anyone noticed Coach Krzyzewski has a really creepy voice? He could play the evil step-sister in some movie.

The storyline of the assistant coaches has been: Jim Boeheim is the zone expert, Mike D'Antoni is the international guy, and Nate McMillan is the... what is Nate McMillan's specialty on this squad? Of course he doesn't need one, but the AP seems to think he's getting a reputation anyway:

"...everybody gets a whole new outlook on conditioning from assistant coach Nate McMillan's drills, including an exhausting fullcourt fast-break exercise that closed Sunday's practice."

Sekou Smith on playful attitudes:

When James got up from an interview and hollered that he needed "five bags of ice" for his aching bones, Wade grinned and shouted back, "that's because you're 30. Check the birth certificate."
Thinking Big Picture

It's rare to hear NBA players thinking big picture, about how they are viewed by the rest of the world. Thank you, Antawn Jamison:

"Let's be honest: Other guys in the NBA that play for different countries, they think we're selfish. They don't think we move the ball. They think they've caught up with us. We're taking that to heart this time."

One of the important lessons for all of us is to realize that the NBA title and the world championship are two different things. We have been sloppy about that for years (I can still hear David Stern in my head, at trophy presentations, saying "your world champion Los Angeles Lakers...", and as Michael Cunningham points out in his article about Dwyane Wade, it's time to get it straight.

"Coming off a championship, my confidence level is still high. I'm older than a lot of guys here, even though I am a young player in the league. Not many guys in here have won a world championship."

Actually, Wade won an NBA championship, not a world title. That's a key difference for the Americans, whose dominance of international play has vanished in recent years.

Team USA's Old Approach

Brian Windhorst explains the old approach to preparing for international competition:

In 2004, Team USA had a four-day training camp in Jacksonville, Fla. The team played one exhibition against Puerto Rico and then bolted for Europe. There, the team went on an exhibition tour in which it played two countries, Turkey and Germany, that weren’t even taking part in the Olympics and was blasted by a team that was, Italy. To those who had been watching, it was no surprise when Puerto Rico beat Team USA in the first game of Olympic play.

As Bob Finnan reports, Coach Krzyzewski suggests one of the problems in Athens might have been "distractions" (I have heard late nights on the cruise ship they were staying on was one such distraction) which might have included distress about post 9/11 security:

"Those guys were under pressure. There were a lot of security pressures. I know about those things. I thank all of those guys that went. Let's eliminate all the distractions."

Style of Play

Don't forget Mike D'Antoni is in the house--as an expert on international basketball. But maybe it's also a chance for Team USA members to better understand some of the "new NBA" principles at work in the Phoenix offense. There are some indications that the team wants to run. This is also from Brian Windhorst:

Anthony also fits the mold Krzyzewski seems to want to use, which is to take advantage of the American athletes to push the ball in transition. Anthony, the Cavaliers' Le-Bron James and the Heat's Dwyane Wade seem to be a foundation the team wants to build on.
The Doubter

ESPN's Chris Sheridan is certainly shaping up as the main source of doubt about the chances of this team. Good! We need one of those.

He has written much along those lines in the past, and today quotes various international basketball experts with raves about some of the competition, including France, and other experts who suspect this US team will be much the same as the last one (How much better is their shooting really at this point? How much teamwork can you master in a couple of weeks?)

For all the talk about good attitudes, I was especially interested in this from Sheridan's blog today:

I heard that NBA referee David Jones, who has extensive experience refereeing FIBA games, received Mike Krzyzewski's blessing Sunday to stop practice to warn the players about their excessive complaining over foul calls. The quality and sometimes blatant incompetence of FIBA referees always comes as a shock to first-time Team USA members, and Jones cautioned them to expect less than the best in Japan.

He also has a nice discussion with this team's scout: Rudy Tomjanovich, who sizes up the competition like this:

"Of course Argentina is good. There's France, Spain, and I've heard that Greece is improved and should be a better team," said Tomjanovich, who is back with USA Basketball after leading the 2000 Olympic team to a gold medal in Sydney. "I've coached against Italy a couple of times, and they're always competitive and fiery. Lithuania, which is in our group, has been good for many years.

"The big thing is, all their players know our players, but we don't know many of their players. And there are some interesting plays that these teams run that we never see in the NBA. All those teams concern me."