Confident Krzyzewski, Team USA on a mission

The start of the 2008 Summer Olympics are 40 days away. Time for coach Mike Krzyzewski to get into battle mode.

Krzyzewski, a West Point graduate and former Army captain, never saw action in Vietnam while commissioned in the early 1970s. But as coach of the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team, he sees the quest for a gold medal as a mission, one that must be successfully completed.

“I think we have the team to do it,” Krzyzewski said.

Krzyzewski, his staff and the 12 players who will represent the United States are in Las Vegas for a two-day minicamp that concludes today with a closed practice at Cox Pavilion. They’ll reconvene July 20, work out at Valley High School from July 21 to 24, then face Canada in a pre-Olympic tuneup at the Thomas & Mack Center before heading to China.

There are significant changes from the roster that took the gold medal last summer at the FIBA Americas Tournament at the Thomas & Mack by going undefeated and winning by an average of 37 points a game.

Guards Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul and forward Chris Bosh, all of whom did not participate last year, are on the Olympic roster. Big men Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, who backed up center Dwight Howard a year ago, are not.

But Wade, Paul and Bosh played two years ago for Krzyzewski at the world championships, where Team USA took third. So he’s familiar with them. He also has his core group of Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd ready to go.

“I don’t see us changing a lot of what we do,” Krzyzewski said. “I think you’ll see us playing the same way and picking up where we left off.”

That will mean playing up-tempo on offense, pressuring the ball on defense and trying to get easy baskets off turnovers. Krzyzewski’s main immediate concern is getting his guys in game shape by the time the Americans step on the floor in Beijing on Aug. 10 against host China.

“The first thing is to see where we are physically with each guy and give them a plan for the next three weeks,” he said. “The players like to work out on their own, and we want them ready for Aug. 10. I don’t have any other concerns other than being healthy and building on the camaraderie we developed the past two years.”

Krzyzewski is not naive to the fact that it is put-up-or-shut-up time for the Americans. The team’s bronze-medal performance at the 2004 Games in Athens still weighs heavily and negatively on the minds of U.S. basketball fans. Jerry Colangelo was named national director to change the culture of USA Basketball, and nothing short of a return to the gold-medal stand will satisfy the country.

“I want the same thing that all Americans want,” Krzyzew-ski said. “It’s the kind of pressure you want to be in.”

Krzyzewski said he thinks the last two years have produced a different attitude among the Olympians.

“The thing that’s there is the total respect for the people we have to face to reach that goal” of winning a gold medal, he said. “That hasn’t always been the case. But we learned that last year, and it will continue.

“Our players enjoy being together, being part of something special, having the opportunity to represent their country.”

Krzyzewski said he has no regrets serving as national team coach, and even though it has meant spending time away from his Duke University program, serving one’s country trumps inconveniences that arise from being a college coach.

“It’s been an exciting and energizing experience,” he said. “The high level of professionalism you’re involved with, the quality of the people, I knew it would be great. But it’s been even better than I expected.”

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

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