Lebron James (C) shoots over Pau Gasol of Spain during the gold medal game between the U.S. and Spain at the London 2012 Olympics Games on Aug. 12, 2012 in London.
USA Basketball will have depth at every position, undeniable talent and plenty of international experience with the 28-player pool formally unveiled Thursday in advance of potentially three summers of competition leading to the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
It is that last item, the experience, from which all good things come.
“The roster itself is the strongest roster we’ve had,” program chairman Jerry Colangelo said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. “The excitement I think for both coach [Mike Krzyzewski] and me is how we have brought these players through our program and our infrastructure over the last eight years and the number of people who have consciously continued to participate speaks volumes about their commitment to USA Basketball.”
LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Deron Williams — each of whom have won two Olympic gold medals — highlight a group of 11 returning Olympians (Kobe Bryant, currently injured, is the one exclusion) that have gained as much familiarity with one another than any other grouping in the program’s history. Rather than winning a gold medal and moving on, they continue to carry the torch for a host of newcomers, highlighted by LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul George, Blake Griffin and Kyrie Irving.
Although James, Anthony and Paul will not play in the FIBA World Cup of Basketball this summer in Spain, Krzyzewski is confident that the attitude they have helped establish will help going forward.
|Kevin Durant and LeBron James celebrate during the gold medal game at the London 2012 Olympics Games on Aug. 12, 2012 in London.
“I love the three Cs,” Krzyzewski said, referring to continuity, commitment and camaraderie. “It trickles down to every level of basketball in our country, the example they are setting.”
James is perhaps the best example. A bronze medalist in Athens in 2004 at age 19, he has gone on to win two Olympic gold medals and two NBA titles yet he continues to be a man focused on the success of the U.S. program. The fact that the youngsters on the way up see that, Colangelo said, speaks volumes to the long-term fortunes of USA Basketball, an entity with a pipeline the chairman described as “getting more full all the time.”
“He’s really put his face on USA Basketball for this last decade,” Krzyzewski said of James, who averaged 13.3 points on 60.3 percent shooting in London while leading the squad in assists en route to Team USA’s gold medal in 2012. “How he’s handled things has really helped in the development of younger players and how they approach the game. His love, his commitment, he shows up every day.
“We’re pleased he wants to continue to be a part of this.”
Colangelo said he expects about six of the returning Olympians to be a part of this summer’s world cup, which offers a guaranteed spot in Brazil to the winner. Kevin Durant and Kevin Love have already committed to the cause, and Houston Rockets teammates James Harden and Dwight Howard, are also possibilities.
Howard was unable to participate in London in 2012 due to back surgery. His return to the mix is part of an influx of size and post talent that Krzyzewski sees as vital to overall health of the program.
“In London at the end of gold-medal game my four and five were Carmelo and LeBron James,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s not bad, but hopefully all these [big] guys are healthy and don’t have any contract or personal issues. We do have a few more options now.”
In addition to Howard and 2012 Olympians Tyson Chandler and Anthony Davis, Aldridge and fellow newcomers DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond highlight the infusion in the post that might one day open things up a bit more for swing talent like James, Anthony and Durant.
Cousins, who has developed into a double-double machine as a 23-year-old budding star in Sacramento, is one of 10 members of the roster pool born in the 1990s, and he figures to be part of that next wave that learns the new American way over the next three summers.
“We look at him as keeping him in the pool and by being in these types of experiences, whether it be at the camp or making the team, he’s going to develop more and more,” Krzyzewski said.
Injuries and other matters always impact the process, and both Colangelo and Krzyzewski insist that the pool is a “fluid” one. Colangelo can make changes at any time. But the building block is in place for another run at the world title this summer and another gold medal in two years. And due to a commitment to country on the part of superstar talents that continue to stick around, that building block is perceived as being more solid than ever.
Tony Lee is a freelance writer living in Boston. He has covered sports for over a decade for ESPN.com, the New England Sports Network and the Boston Metro newspaper, as well as several other websites and publications. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.