Team USA puts plan in action


From the moment the United States finished third in men's basketball in the 2004 Athens Olympics, all of USA Basketball's attention and energy have been devoted to putting America back on top.

A new philosophy was introduced. A new management team and coaching staff were brought in. Thirty-three players were chosen to compete for 12 spots.

Will it pay off? The Beijing Olympics are three weeks away and the quest for gold begins in earnest today as Team USA's Las Vegas training camp begins at Valley High School.

"We've spent 21/2, almost three years getting ready and if we were to take an accounting right now, today, I'd say we're on target," said Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball managing director for the senior men's national team. "All the preliminaries are out of the way. Now we're ready for the final push."

As the man who put the plan together, Colangelo knows he'll be most accountable if Team USA doesn't win gold in Beijing. He said he's not going to duck anyone and he'll be fully accountable.

"I not only like it, I love the moment that we're in a position to change something so dramatically," Colangelo said of the pressure on him, head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the players.

Team USA will practice three hours daily with part of each practice devoted to a scrimmage against the USA Basketball Select Team comprised of young NBA players. Sunday, the Select team added Portland Trail Blazers rookie guard Jerryd Bayless.

Team USA will play an exhibition against Canada at 5 p.m. Friday at the Thomas & Mack Center. Because practices at Valley are closed, the game will be the lone opportunity for the public to see the team before Beijing.

Colangelo said his plan for players to make a three-year commitment to the USA Basketball program has worked out well with the formation of the final roster.

"I'm not the kind of guy who (second guesses)," Colangelo said. "We started out with a plan. We've tried to stick to it as much as we could. We had a great selection process. We've taken the politics out of it. It's been a very fair process so I feel very good about it."

The team was built with versatility in mind. In the event a player gets hurt, Krzyzewski will have the flexibility to shift things around and not lose too much in the process.

"Injuries are always the biggest concern in basketball for coaches and management," Colangelo said. "But we have a built-in mechanism that allows us to move people around who can play two, three or even four positions. As long as our (big men) don't go down, we should be in good shape.

"We need to be healthy and in the best physical condition once we begin play in China because it's a grind. You're playing every other day. I just pray we don't have any serious injuries."

Colangelo said everyone on the roster is ready to go. Center Tyson Chandler, an alternate who was going to practice with Team USA, will be sidelined with a toe injury. However, center Dwight Howard's hairline fracture in his sternum has healed and he has been cleared to practice.

Kobe Bryant has said his broken pinky will not impede him. Same for LeBron James and his sore back.

The team gathered Sunday at Wynn Las Vegas for a meeting and dinner. Today, they will go to work on the court.

"I think we have an excellent team to represent the United States because of the character involved, the coaching leadership we have," Colangelo said. "I don't think anyone will be better prepared. We just have to finish the job."

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

 

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