LAS VEGAS – A normal meeting between a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team and a John Calipari-coached team includes both sides boasting a bevy of high school All-American types.
The Nov. 13 Duke-Kentucky clash will include many of college basketball’s best and brightest prospects.
But tonight’s exhibition matchup at UNLV between the U.S. Olympic team, coached by Krzyzewski, and the Calipari-coached Dominican Republic team (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) will be a decidedly one-sided affair in favor of Krzyzewski’s crew.
The U.S. boasts 10 gold medalists and 12 of the NBA’s biggest and brightest stars. The Dominican team has just two NBA players on the roster, Hawks All-Star center Al Horford and Kings swingman Francisco Garcia.
But Krzyzewski insists that logistics have prevented his team from getting the smooth start to the training camp process that they need to be ready for the start of the Olympic competition in London in just two weeks.
Instead of showing up here last week with the 12-man roster already set, the final team wasn’t settled upon until after the second day of practice. Injuries to superstars like Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh put several new faces in the mix for roster spots for London.
A delayed NBA season coupled with an earlier than usual start (July 27, as opposed to Aug. 8) to the Olympics and the machinations of free agency forced a staggered start to this process as well.
“It’s a disjointed start because we had to use the first couple of days for selection, free agency and then injury. So the early start of the Olympics puts us in that window of the NBA free agency,” Krzyzewski said. “In ’08 our practices started the 20th. We never had to deal with that and we didn’t have an injury at one position and free agency at the same position. So that has an impact. It’s a negative impact that we have to overcome.”
Krzyzewski won’t get much sympathy from Cailpari or any of his Olympic coaching peers. Not when he has LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and others available to help sort through some of the time-crunch madness this team has had to deal with since assembling last week.
Even with James (rest), Paul (thumb injury), Williams (contract) and Blake Griffin (contract) sitting out significant portions of practice sessions this week, no one expects this team to be terribly rusty when they hit the floor at the Thomas and Mack Center tonight.
“That’s why [tonight’s game] should be fun,” James said. “We’ve got some things to work through as a group. We just haven’t had everybody available for scrimmages. So we’ll get a chance to see where we are right now.”
There are bound to be some interesting on-court combinations, choppy rotations and even a bit of sloppiness since the team’s two primary point guards haven’t been able to go through all of their usual paces just yet. Still, you don’t show up with this sort of All-Star team and expect to do anything but dominate.
The Select Team, composed of fellow NBA players, has helped prepare the Olympic team for the five-game exhibition schedule they will play in the lead up to London. But there’s nothing like squaring off against a team wearing different colored jerseys.
“It’s an exhibition game, so it’s about getting into a flow and finding our rhythm as a group,” Westbrook said. “But anytime we suit up, anytime somebody says lights, cameras and action, we’ve got to be ready to go. And we’ll be ready.”