It was an impossible question, one USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo could never properly answer: Which was more satisfying -- the Olympic gold medal earned through the blood, sweat and tears shed during a three-year rebuilding process; or the World Championship gold, claimed by a young, upstart team that seemed an unlikely group to end America's 16-year drought in the event?
"That's a really difficult question," Colangelo said in a phone interview. "I'll say this: On the day of the championship game at the Olympics, I felt the tension. I felt the enormity of the moment. In Turkey, I had a very relaxed feeling. The way everything had gone, this was the way it was supposed to be. This was the way it was supposed to work out. But it's never good to compare, because both those experiences were extraordinary."
Indeed, USA Basketball is once again the standard against which other countries measure themselves. In five short years, Colangelo and coach MikeKrzyzewski have rebuilt a program that was circling the drain before their arrival. Playing for the United States is cool again, a fact exemplified by the dozens of players lining up to wear the uniform.
"Winning this gold," Colangelo said, "got USA Basketball over a big hump."
Yet, now Colangelo faces a new dilemma. While he once had to scramble to put together a roster, now he must choose from a deep pool of talent, all clamoring for a spot. Undoubtedly, each member of the World Championship team would like a place on the team headed to London in 2012. And in the aftermath of the U.S. victory, Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams contacted the USA brass. The message? Congratulations. The subtext? Don't forget about what I did, either.
Colangelo gets it. He knows members of the 2008 Olympic gold medal team won't get a chance to defend their title, just like the euphoric feeling washing over some world champions will eventually be replaced by cold disappointment.
"I'm assuming the Olympic team in 2012 will be a blend of both teams," Colangelo said. "There should be turnover. We're selling people on the pipeline concept. There are guys who aspire to be part of USA Basketball that want to be part of the competition. The perfect situation for our program going forward is going to have a solid 30 guys that don't have to be in every competition."
Ask Colangelo if he has a roster in mind, and he has a joke at the ready: "I'll take the first 12 guys that call." But ask a few follow-ups, and you get a pretty good sense of which players are keepers. Colangelo praised Lamar Odom ("He provided veteran leadership and did a sensational job against bigger guys"), Russell Westbrook ("Sensational. His energy is something you can't teach") and Andre Iguodala ("He shut down anyone and everyone"). Toss in KevinDurant ("He's the entire package"), and at least part of the framework is in place.
As for the rest, Colangelo said he'll figure out as he goes along. By winning the gold medal, the U.S. automatically qualified for the 2012 Olympics. But Colangelo said he plans to hold a camp next offseason and invite players from both teams -- 2008 and 2010 -- to attend. He said he is keeping an eye out for another shooter and is looking forward to watching his young roster grow in the NBA next season. The future, Colangelo believes, will figure itself out.
"We have a lot of young guys who play without egos and who give everything they have," Colangelo said. "That's what USA Basketball is all about."
But while he decides, here's a prediction on who will make the 2012 roster:
Wade will be 30 by the time the London Games roll around, and his battered body will likely have the additional wear and tear of two long playoff runs. But if he wants it, a spot is his.
Several members of the '10 roster -- including Durant -- commented on how Bryant's work ethic positively influenced them during previous training camps. That kind of impact, in addition to Bryant's late-game heroics, makes him a lock.
The departure of Jason Kidd leaves the U.S. in need of a playmaker. Pencil Paul into that spot.
The adaptable Williams knows how to run a structured offense. He's not as explosive as Derrick Rose but he's a better shooter and a more accomplished playmaker. Chauncey Billups might be Williams' toughest competition for this spot.
The USA coaches loved Westbrook's ability to change a game with his speed and athleticism. He's an ideal fit at either guard spot on the second unit.
As impressed as Colangelo and Co. were by Durant's skills, they were equally impressed with the 21-year-old's attitude and maturity. Durant's feathery jump shot makes him a one-man zone buster.
Can't leave the NBA's MVP off the roster. James' offense and transition passing will certainly help, and his freakish athleticism will help him fit right into the U.S.' newfound defensive mind-set.
Iguodala embraced the role of defensive stopper and filled it admirably. He won't get the same minutes on this team, but he will make it.
Anthony's versatility -- he played either forward spot -- in '08 was a big reason the U.S. won gold. An even bigger, stronger 'Melo will be a bigger asset in '12.
Bosh is the perfect hybrid big man. He can swing between the four and the five and keep defenders honest with his touch on the perimeter. Besides, after two years in Miami, he will be used to deferring to other players.
Maybe the toughest spot to predict. Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, TysonChandler, David Lee and perhaps Amar'e Stoudemire will look to fill it, but Odom -- who has all-important equity after playing in the '04 Olympics and '10 World Championship -- gets the nod for his versatility.
The U.S. didn't look like it missed Superman under the rim in Turkey ... but it did. Howard can single-handedly control the paint and clean up any mistakes around the basket.