US men’s bas­ket­ball look­ing ready for Rio ’16

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY BRIAN MA­HONEY

While many coun­tries are still try­ing to qual­ify for the Olympics, the U.S. is al­ready lin­ing up guys to play.

Not just next sum­mer, but po­ten­tially five sum­mers down the line.

Firmly perched atop the bas­ket­ball world but for­ever mind­ful of how they were once knocked off, the Amer­i­cans took a few days this week to be­gin their prepa­ra­tions for 2016. And 2020. And way be­yond that.

“We’re try­ing to build some­thing that can last for­ever,” LeBron James said.

The Amer­i­cans didn’t ex­actly work hard in this city bet­ter known for fun. The prac­tices were short and light, though it’s not like they have tons to do. Ten months be­fore pick­ing the team, USA Bas­ket­ball chair­man Jerry Colan­gelo al­ready says if ev­ery­one is healthy, this will be the best U.S. squad yet.

Be­sides, they didn’t re­ally come here to do drills. They came for mo­ments like the open­ing of the first prac­tice, which demon­strated what Colan­gelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski have built.

The Amer­i­cans posed for a team pic­ture, five rows of about 40 play­ers, coaches and of­fi­cials rep­re­sent­ing the past, present and fu­ture of the pro­gram, from guys who have been in the pro­gram for a decade to oth­ers who are just start­ing their in­ter­na­tional ca­reers.

Some won in Bei­jing and Lon­don. Many will have their shot in Rio de Janeiro. Oth­ers might have to wait un­til Tokyo in 2020, but the process for that has al­ready be­gun.

“We don’t only have a pool of play­ers, we have a pool of gold-medal win­ners. But you still have to bring new guys in be­cause it’s go­ing to keep go­ing and even if, say a guy would not make the team next year, he po­ten­tially could be a star (later). That’s how you have to keep the cul­ture go­ing and thank good­ness that these guys have recom­mit­ted each time,” Krzyzewski said.

The na­tional team is 75-1 since Colan­gelo im­ple­mented the pro­gram fol­low­ing the Amer­i­cans’ bronze-medal fin­ish in Athens in 2004. He and Krzyzewski built some­thing in which the NBA’s best not only want to play, but want to keep do­ing it.

James and Carmelo An­thony could be­come the first Amer­i­can four-time men’s bas­ket­ball Olympians. Even Hall of Famer David Robin­son, a Navy grad­u­ate and only other U.S. player to com­pete in three, can’t be­lieve how much to­day’s play­ers keep re­turn­ing.

“It seemed like in­ter­est started to wane around 2000 and 2004. I didn’t think any­body was go­ing to want to do it that many times, es­pe­cially when you’re not get­ting paid,” Robin­son said. “But like I said, the cul­ture that they’ve cre­ated now, the guys take a lot of pride in it, they’re tak­ing pride in our coun­try and I just think it’s fan­tas­tic.”

It just briefly seemed in jeop­ardy of weak­en­ing last sum­mer.

A se­ries of player with­drawals be­fore the Bas­ket­ball World Cup, most no­tably Kevin Du­rant, and the Amer­i­cans’ first se­ri­ous in­jury with Paul Ge­orge’s bro­ken leg — Colan­gelo called it a tragedy — left some won­der­ing if the in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence still mat­tered.

In fact, it felt like 2004. But in Colan­gelo’s pro­gram, sta­bil­ity quickly re­places un­cer­tainty.

“Yeah, it’s come a long way,” said for­mer NBA ex­ec­u­tive Stu Jack­son, who was on the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee in 2004. “And I think the struc­ture, the process with which they pick the team was a very needed change and we owe that all to Jerry Colan­gelo.”

Stephen Curry, An­thony Davis and Kyrie Irv­ing helped the Amer­i­cans win gold in Spain and could be among the play­ers who carry the pro­gram for­ward once James, An­thony and Chris Paul de­cide they’re done.

Play­ing in Bei­jing was a no-brainer, with the U.S. rep­u­ta­tion to re­pair and sneak­ers to sell in bas­ket­ball­crazed main­land China. An­thony said play­ers and the com­pa­nies they en­dorse are still try­ing to fig­ure out the op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Brazil­ian mar­ket, but David M. Carter, prin­ci­pal of The Sports Busi­ness Group, said the play­ers have an ad­van­tage with the NBA’s in­ter­na­tional reach.

“Com­bine this ex­per­tise with the global stage af­forded NBA play­ers dur­ing the Olympics, and each and ev­ery one of them should think long and hard prior to ques­tion­ing the value of par­tic­i­pat­ing,” Carter said. “While risks ex­ist, they should be deemed mea­sured risks where the up­side of par­tic­i­pat­ing far out­weighs de­clin­ing the in­vi­ta­tion. This is par- tic­u­larly the case for NBA stars hop­ing to have high-pro­file and lu­cra­tive ca­reers once their play­ing days are over.”

Colan­gelo and Krzyzewski can choose a ros­ter from the play­ers here this week and even po­ten­tially Kobe Bryant, who he said could be in the mix for a spot if he earns it.

The Amer­i­cans

are

in

great shape and they know it. Join­ing Colan­gelo and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ear­lier Thurs­day in a lead­er­ship seminar at Nel­lis Air Force Base, Krzyzewski said the Amer­i­cans have learned from past mis­takes and un­der­stand what it takes in in­ter­na­tional play.

“Un­less we screw up in­ter­nally,” he said, “we should win.”

AP

(Above) Vic­tor Oladipo dunks dur­ing the fi­nal sec­onds of a U.S. men’s bas­ket­ball in­trasquad game in Las Ve­gas, Thurs­day, Aug. 13. (Left) Blake Grif­fin dunks the ball against DeAn­dre Jor­dan #53 dur­ing a U.S. men’s bas­ket­ball in­trasquad game in Las Ve­gas, Thurs­day.

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