It’s only three days, but coach Mike Krzyzewski intends to make the most of them as he and his staff deal with the challenge of selecting the 12 players who will represent the United States at next month’s FIBA Americas Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Seventeen players are in Las Vegas for the minicamp, which begins today with a three-hour, closed-to-the-public practice at Cox Pavilion and concludes Sunday with the Blue-White scrimmage at the Thomas & Mack.
It doesn’t seem like a lot of time to make an evaluation, and Krzyzewski, head coach for Team USA, and Jerry Colangelo, managing director for USA Basketball’s senior men’s national team, aren’t so sure that anyone will be cut Sunday, following the minicamp.
The team’s final roster of 12 doesn’t have to be submitted until Aug. 21, the day before the Americans open play in the Olympic-qualifying tournament.
"Unless someone is hurt or has a family issue, we probably won’t make any cuts at the minicamp," Krzyzewski said.
Colangelo added: "We’ll take that one as it comes. Let’s see where we’re at after Sunday."
Krzyzewski is in his second year as Team USA’s coach. He hoped to have a relatively easy summer, but when the Americans finished third at the FIBA World Championships a year ago in Japan, failing to earn the automatic bid to next summer’s Beijing Olympics, it left Krzyzewski and Team USA with a lot of work to do to qualify.
Only the top two finishers at the FIBA Americas Tournament will advance to the Olympics. Among the teams competing with Team USA for one of the two spots are Argentina and Brazil, both of whom are expected to bring their best players to Las Vegas.
"The biggest thing we’re looking at is our attention to detail," Krzyzewski said in discussing his minicamp objectives. "Overall, I was pleased with what happened in Japan on the court. We probably had three bad quarters the entire tournament, the second against Italy and two bad quarters against Greece.
"We need to guard our ball screens better, and we need to finish off our offensive opportunities, whether it’s free throws or dunks."
Krzyzewski and his staff, which includes Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, Phoenix Suns coach Mike D’Antoni and Portland’s Nate McMillan, have to sort out a few things this weekend and then carry them over into next month’s training camp, which begins Aug. 13 at the Andre Agassi Preparatory Academy.
Among the issues is how do they want their guards to push the ball? Given there are several new faces in the backcourt, specifically Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups, the coaching staff has to figure out how to play to the two veterans’ strengths.
"Jason does that well, and Chauncey also runs the break well," Krzyzewski said. "We definitely want to play up-tempo whenever possible."
Another key is how to maximize the talents of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony whenever they’re on the floor together, which figures to be often. Bryant did not play last year for Team USA because of an injury while Anthony led the team in scoring.
"The question is, how do we position them and get them to be comfortable with each other while maximizing their abilities?" Krzyzewski said of the talented trio.
Krzyzewski also wants to establish the team’s zone principles at both ends of the floor.
In international play, the Americans will see zone defenses virtually all the time. The U.S. squad will have to devise their own defensive schemes to combat the likes of Argentina, Brazil and Puerto Rico, three teams that shoot the ball well.
”That’s something we’ll devote a lot of time to and probably address the first day," Krzyzewski said. "But one thing about minicamp is to not put in too much right away. You don’t want to do too much too soon."
Krzyzewski said he is rested and ready to go to work. He knows the pressure that he and his players face.
"I’m even more excited and energized," he said. "I saw the effort and cooperation everybody gave last year and we have a great group of guys. They were very respectful and coachable.
"To be honest, I wasn’t sure going into last year what was going to happen. But the players were great. We had our best practices in Las Vegas last year, and the guys are excited about coming back."USA BASKETBALL MINICAMP • WHEN: Today through Sunday • WHERE: Cox Pavilion, Thomas & Mack Center • HEAD COACH: Mike Krzyzewski • SCHEDULE: Today — practice 1-4 p.m., Cox Pavilion (closed to public); Saturday — practice 1-4 p.m., Cox Pavilion (closed to public); Sunday — Blue-White scrimmage, 4 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center (tickets $10, $15, $20, $35, $50) • TV: Sunday, 4 p.m. Fox Sports West (Cable 49)