The run-up to the start of USA Basketball’s Las Vegas training camp has been about the players who decided not to participate.
Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard have all opted out for various reasons. But with practice scheduled to begin today at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center for the upcoming FIBA World Cup in Spain, the focus shifts to the 19 players who are participating.
From head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s perspective, that’s the only way it can be.
“It’s an important week for us,” Krzyzewski said Sunday at Wynn Las Vegas, the team’s headquarters through Friday. “We’ve got a month to prepare, and we need to lay the foundation for what our identity is going to be. We have a lot of new faces. We have a new (coaching) staff. It’s important that we get a feel for the guys who are here and who will be with us.”
Krzyzewski doesn’t begrudge Love or Griffin for their decisions. As he points out, playing for your country is voluntary.
“I never question someone’s decision not to play,” he said. “But I will admit I was surprised when I heard the news about Blake and about Kevin.”
From the first day he took over as managing director of USA Basketball’s national team in 2005, Jerry Colangelo has stressed flexibility and versatility in building a team.
Those principles were tested in 2010 when the U.S. went through extensive lineup changes en route to winning the FIBA World Championships in Turkey.
That flexibility and versatility is about to be tested again, this time as Team USA prepares for the World Cup, which begins at the end of August. The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, so it’s a very important competition.
“We’ve always wanted to be fluid with the roster,” said Colangelo, who also serves as chairman of USA Basketball. “You’re always going to have guys drop out for various reasons, and we understand that. But with that comes an opportunity for someone else to come in and step up.”
Washington guard John Wall was added to the roster Friday and Atlanta forward Paul Milsap was added to the team Sunday.
“We had an opportunity for Paul and he was excited. He wanted to be here,” Colangelo said of Milsap, a 6-foot-8, eight-year NBA veteran who brings intensity, maturity and an ability to rebound and defend to the roster. “But we’re excited about getting started. We have a lot of versatility, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Coach K and the coaches use that versatility.”
Krzyzewski said he has everything needed to win the gold medal in Spain come Sept. 14.
“I’m very confident about the guys we have here,” he said. “I’m excited to get the chance to coach the returning guys, and I’m just as excited to coach some of the new guys.”
One of the major storylines of this week will be Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls’ All-Star guard who has been slow to recover from knee surgery two years ago. Krzyzewski said he talked to Rose and he’s looking forward to seeing him on the floor. So is Tom Thibodeau, Rose’s coach in Chicago, who is an assistant with Team USA, along with New Orleans head coach Monty Williams and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim.
“He seems unbelievably ready,” Krzyzewski said of Rose. “He doesn’t have to be perfect the first day. But I’m interested in seeing what he’s going to do. Same for Anthony Davis. I feel like it’s his time. And Paul George is another player I’m looking forward to seeing. He can do so many different things. So there’s a lot of reasons to be excited.”
Colangelo is looking forward to watching Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond establish their credentials right away.
“We’re looking for someone to wow us,” Colangelo said. “It’s a great opportunity for the bigs.”
Colangelo said the roster may look different and there may be a tweak or two in how it plays, but the goal never changes for Team USA. It’s about being at the top of the podium at the end of every international competition.
“It doesn’t matter how we do it,” he said. “It’s doing it. The question is, what will be the path we take to get there?”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.