LAS VEGAS — Anyone wondering where the players and coaches involved in the USA Basketball program get their confidence from need look no further than to Jerry Colangelo.
The longtime NBA executive and USA Basketball’s chairman and managing director exudes the utmost confidence in the players that have helped build the national program, from the high schoolers to the global superstars on display here at training camp this week, back into the world’s best.
When Colangelo took over in 2005 there was major work to be done. Eight years later there are gold medal teams at every level and Colangelo’s grand plan is in full swing, with no significant growing pains in sight.
Members of the Olympic team worked out Tuesday morning at UNLV while members of the gold medal winning Under-17 Team, which includes the nation’s top rising senior Jabari Parker, watching from the other side of the court. Colangelo made it clear that the players that comprise both teams represent the recent past, present and future of USA Basketball, which is exactly the way it was planned.
And with the 20-year anniversary of the original Dream Team as a backdrop, Colangelo couldn’t ask for a better platform than the competition in London to showcase the best of the very best in what is a much different global basketball climate than the U.S. was dealing with in the aftermath of the Dream Team’s gold medal run.
“When I came along, I wasn’t happy about how people looked at us as Americans, as athletes and basketball people,” Colangelo said. “And I was determined that we were going to change that. How do you fix it? You show respect to the rest of the world’s basketball community and then you go about working to get your respect back. I knew if we do it together, it would be a fantastic experience. Well, [the players] bought in. And now if you look at our programs, the junior teams … 16, 17, 18 and 19 … they are all full, they are all loaded, they are all gold medalists. They want to play, they want to represent their country. That’s what we set out to do. And in eight years, our program is as strong as it could be right now. And I’m pleased with that.”
That’s also why Colangelo has no problem with the team heading to London playing with gold-medal-or-bust expectations hanging over them. After the bronze medal finish in 2004 and the gold medal work of the “Redeem Team” in Beijing in 2008, he demands this current embrace being the best.
“In 2008 we were climbing the hill,” he said. “Now we’re on top of the hill. We have to defend the hill. I’d rather be on top of the hill defending it rather than climbing it every time.”