LAS VEGAS -- A condensed season of basketball will grow even longer and even more taxing on Friday. That's when USA Basketball opens its Olympic men's training camp for more than a score of NBA players. A dozen of them will be expected to win another gold medal when the Olympic final takes place in London on Aug. 12.
The 15 finalists to make the Olympic roster will spend Friday and Saturday at practice before USAB chairman Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski announce the final 12-man roster on a live TV special on Saturday night. That will set off three weeks of training, a regimen that should help the players recover from a lockout-abridged NBA season and force them to simulate a game every other day with little in the way of an NBA training camp or practice.
The plan calls for the U.S. to train in four cities (across three countries) and to play five exhibition games against Olympic rivals before attending the Opening Ceremony on July 27.
Krzyzewski will be sensitive to the needs of the players, especially in the early days of the camp. Kobe Bryant is approaching his 17th NBA season and should have the best understanding of how to prepare, while LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will have finished the NBA Finals just 16 days before the opening of camp. This will be a third straight Olympics for James and Carmelo Anthony, both of whom will face the kind of intensive work program that exhausts even the biggest stars of soccer, players who fulfill close to a year-round schedule of club and country commitments.
The training sessions have been planned around the exhibition games, which will provide a sense of urgency and competition intended to keep the players focused on the larger mission at hand.
For six days in Las Vegas the Olympic team will play against a younger Select Team of NBA players. They will help the senior stars prepare for London, while simultaneously auditioning for the 2014 U.S. team that will compete in the FIBA World Championship. The Select Team includes DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors, who have been viewed as potential Team USA replacements following an epidemic of injuries that will sideline many big men from the Olympics this summer. The unavailability of Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Andrew Bynum and LaMarcus Aldridge leaves the U.S. with one just experienced center, Tyson Chandler.
The dearth of front court players forced Colangelo and Krzyzewski to consider retaining Anthony Davis, the recent No. 1 overall who recently suffered a sprained ankle and will be unable to practice with the U.S. for at least one week. But USAB wants keep Davis on the roster, not only to potentially bring him off the bench but also to provide him with experience before the 2016 Olympics, when men's basketball is expected to be limited to players who are 23 and younger. Davis will be 23 at the time of those Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Six days of training in Las Vegas will be followed by an exhibition July 12 at UNLV against the Dominican Republic. The U.S. team will then fly to Washington D.C. for a weekend of practice and several appearances to honor the U.S. military, followed by an exhibition on July 16 vs. Brazil, a likely candidate to meet the U.S. in the gold-medal final.
Two days after that exhibition, the U.S. will travel to Manchester, England for a day of practice and a third exhibition game against Great Britain, led by Luol Deng of the Bulls. The game could be a preview of what's to come, as the Britons have a chance to play their way into an Olympic quarterfinal against the U.S.
On July 20 the U.S. training will reach its peak. The team will spend six days in Barcelona, the city that served as host to the original Dream Team of the 1992 Olympics. While in Spain the U.S. will play exhibitions against potential gold-medal finalists Argentina (July 22) and Spain (July 24).
The "preseason" schedule is filled with formidable opponents in order to bring out the best in the American stars. Their Olympic opener will come July 29 against France, another highly ranked opponent filled with NBA players (but no longer Joakim Noah). Most teams might not want to launch the Olympics with such an important game, but the USAB leadership believes a serious test will fully engage and motivate the U.S. for a tiring Olympic schedule of a game every second day.