For USA Basketball last year's Olympics were an exercise in hubris. After the U.S. finished sixth at the 2002 World Championships, the 10-member committee composed mostly of NBA team executives that picked the players and coaches nonetheless thought that two weeks of practice and a roster full of redundant talents (too many slashers and not enough shooters) would carry America to the gold. By the time the players were accepting their bronze medals, it was clear that the notion of athleticism's trumping everything--even teams that have been playing together for years--was no longer valid.
"The selection process had become too fragmented," says Val Ackerman, president of USA Basketball. "There were too many cooks in the kitchen. We needed an authority figure."
Last week's announcement that Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball's managing director, will have nearly complete control over the men's team is a large step in the right direction. Colangelo, the chairman and CEO of the Phoenix Suns, is a four-time NBA Executive of the Year. Charming and persuasive, he is cozy with agents, coaches and G.M.'s. Colangelo alone will decide who makes the team, after consulting with an informal inner circle including Nets CEO Rod Thorn, Grizzlies president Jerry West and former Cavs G.M. Wayne Embry.
Still, Colangelo will expect players to make a two-year commitment to play in the 2006 World Championship and the '08 Olympics. As a result, the talent pool, which Colangelo sees as 25 to 50 pro and college players, may not have the big names of past Dream Teams, which suits him fine. "We need to adjust to the international game," Colangelo says. "We need athleticism, role players, shooters and guys the late Cotton Fitzsimmons would call 'dirt-kickers,' who go out and get the job done. I'm only looking for those who want to buy in." Colangelo didn't name names, but Brad Miller, Ben Gordon and their like would probably qualify. (About the coaching job, Colangelo would only say it needn't be full-time, meaning an NBA coach is the likely choice.)
Colangelo calls himself "very passionate" about his new job, and it shows. "After last summer I was not happy about the perception of this country internationally," says Colangelo, who according to a USA Basketball source is not being paid for the job. "To hear fans even in this country pulling against the team just broke my heart. We need to change." --Chris Ballard