The U.S. men’s basketball team that will play in London this summer will be a bit different than the one that won a gold medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Some familiar faces, such as Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, will be absent. But even without those stars, unable to compete because of injuries, this team might be as good — or better.
As U.S. Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the final three members of the 12-man team had been announced, “It’s the first step to winning the gold in London.”
That’s a bold statement when you consider this: Wade was the 2008 team's leading scorer, averaging 16 points in just over 18 minutes per game off the bench. Howard started at center and averaged 10.9 points while shooting 74.5 percent from the field. Bosh, meanwhile, backed him up and shot even better, knocking down 24 of 31 shots (77.4 percent) and leading the team with 6.1 rebounds per game.
Because of injuries to these key players, over the past several months, the makeup of the 12-member U.S. team has been in doubt.
Sure, LeBron James, fresh off his first NBA title with the Miami Heat, was going to be on the roster, but how would the United States round out its team?
On Saturday, Krzyzewski — the Duke coach who also coached the 2008 Olympic champion U.S. squad — and Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball’s managing director, announced the selection of the final three players: Blake Griffin, James Harden and Andre Iguodala. On Sunday, the 12-player squad practiced for the first time as a team in Las Vegas. The men’s team will face Brazil in an exhibition game July 16 in Washington, D.C.
“If someone had projected the 12 names six months ago or nine months ago it might have had a different look,” Colangelo said on a conference call with reporters. “We went through the process of dealing with those who were eligible, those who were injured. When the smoke cleared, we feel very strongly about the group that we have, a very versatile, athletic group. …We have continuity with Coach K and our staff. So we’re kind of a seasoned group of international players now and feel very optimistic about our chances going forward.”
Krzyzewski said this team may be particularly good because of its experience. “I think our team has excellent athleticism, maturity,” he said. “We have veterans. I think Jerry made a great point. We have veterans with international competition who have had success in international competition. I also like our versatility. A lot of these players can play multiple positions, and we do have great attitudes. These guys are good guys who want to be here and represent their country.”
One big addition to the team since Beijing is in Kevin Durant. He averaged 22.1 points to lead the United States to the gold medal at the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Istanbul and was named the tournament MVP. This past season, he led the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Finals.
Still, this team has a lot to do on the court if it is going to improve on the performance of the Beijing squad. Back in 2008, the Americans cruised through pool play, winning by an average of more than 30 points. The United States defeated Spain, 118–107, to claim its first gold medal in the Olympic Games since 2000.
The roster breakdown is:
Guards (6): Kobe Bryant (Lakers), James Harden (Thunder), Andre Iguodala (76ers), Chris Paul (Clippers), Russell Westbrook (Thunder), Deron Williams (Nets).
Forwards (5): Carmelo Anthony (Knicks), Kevin Durant (Thunder), Blake Griffin (Clippers), LeBron James (Heat), Kevin Love (Timberwolves).
Center (1): Tyson Chandler (Knicks).
Those positions, however, are just on paper.
Krzyzewski and Colangelo said many players could play multiple spots on the floor, a flexibility that is a special facet of this team. The key, said Coach K, is the players seem to complement one another.
“You want to surround your key players — LeBron, Kobe, Kevin Durant, Carmelo — with necessary pieces that might assure their success,” said Krzyzewski of the final selection process. “(It’s) just a matter of serving the needs of the team.”
In particular, Griffin, Harden and Iguodala, the final three selections, and Love — who can play both forward and center — offer elements that make this team especially versatile.
“Blake Griffin made it because he’s a talent, but also he has size,” Colangelo said. “We look at him as a 5 (center), not a 4 (power forward). We have a lot of versatility up front but, a lot of people (are) kind of the same size. He brings bulk and he’s done well guarding big centers in the NBA.”
Iguodola is a defender whom Colangelo said “can put pressure on anyone you ask him to put pressure on,” while Harden — voted the NBA’s Sixth Man this past season — has good size and is accustomed to coming off the bench.
Love can make matchups difficult for opponents when he’s at center.
“He’s a very versatile 5 man,” Krzyzewski said. “In other words, unconventional. To be quite frank with you, sometimes the international teams have a 5 like Kevin who can shoot from the outside and is not your (typical) low post player. He gives us depth at the center position and I think he can defend that position and he becomes a very difficult guy to defend and opens the court quite a bit for our other four players when he’s on the court because he’s such a good shooter.”
Over the next three weeks, Coach’s K’s team will hold training camps and play a series of exhibition games throughout the U.S. and Europe before its opening game in London on July 29 vs. France.
Others in the U.S. pool are Argentina — an outstanding team featuring the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili and Rockets’ Luis Scola — and Tunisia.
Now that the roster is set, the Americans are ready to get to work. This may be a slightly different team than it was four years ago, but it might also be a better team.
“I think it can but at the end of the day I don’t think it really matters,” said Chris Paul, who will play on his second Olympic team in London. “It’s all about winning the gold medal. We can’t freeze time and play against the ’08 team. ’08, we were very talented and very good. The reason why I think this team will be better is we are a little more versatile but a bigger part of it is that all of us are much better than we were in ’08. That’s what a lot of people probably don’t realize. Look at LeBron and Deron (Williams) how much better they are. I’m stronger now. Even Kobe is better now than back then.”
The proof will come in London.
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Doug Williams is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies. Information from news releases and from the Associated Press were used in compiling this story.