The shine was barely off his team's gold medals from the 2008 Olympics when USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo went to work on getting another set, this time in a tournament the U.S. hasn't won since 1994: the world championships. Locking up the coach was the first step, which Colangelo did last summer, getting Mike Krzyzewski to commit through 2012. Bringing the players back was the next, though that proved to be far more difficult. Not a single member of the '08 team was willing to recommit, leaving U.S. officials to select a new squad for the tournament, which begins next month in Turkey. That process began last week, when 20 players assembled in Las Vegas to audition for 12 spots. "It's wide open," says Krzyzewski. "Everyone has a chance to make it."
Younger and more athletic than the '08 team, this group will try to increase the number of possessions by creating turnovers. "We don't think international teams like pressure," says Colangelo. "We're going to play a lot of guys and ramp up the intensity." And with a number of big men unavailable—Amar'e Stoudemire (unable to get his contract insured because of his surgically repaired knee), David Lee (injured right middle finger) and Robin Lopez (bad back)—the '10 team will be more perimeter-oriented. Forward Kevin Durant, who had 28 points in an intrasquad scrimmage last Saturday, will be the primary option, and the U.S. will try to capitalize on the speed of point guards Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo in transition. "We have so many good guards here," says Krzyzewski. "We have to come up with an unconventional system to get the most out of this group."
The USA staff wielded both carrot and stick in Vegas. When camp opened on July 20, Colangelo encouraged the players by reminding them of the team's 16-year world title drought and pointing out that around the globe they were being referred to as the B Team. The stick came later: After his troops split four scrimmages at the first practice with a select team made up of college players, Krzyzewski tore into them the next day.
Anything short of a gold medal in Turkey means the U.S. will have to qualify for the Olympics next summer, when a potential NBA lockout could detonate the roster. But winning would create other headaches. Multiple players told SI that if this group takes the gold in Istanbul, then it should stay intact and compete in the London Olympics. But most members of the '08 team are expected to want the opportunity to defend their medal. That's an issue, however, that USA officials hope to have to deal with. "The best problem for us would be if everybody wants to play," says Colangelo. "That makes it even more competitive and gives us the opportunity to have the very best represent us."
August 1, 2010
Now on SI.com
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