LONDON — One set of eyes might gaze at the Olympic game schedule for Tuesday and see a hopeless underdog facing the age-old behemoth of international basketball and declare the matchup between Tunisia and the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team over before it starts.
U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski looks at the same schedule and sees no such thing. He has too much respect for the other competitors in the Summer Games and for the game to treat either one with that sort of disrespect.
Krzyzewski sees only opportunity in Tuesday’s night’s game against the African champions, another chance for his team to perform on a stage that demands their very best.
Clearly, Tunisia is not nearly as accomplished as many of the other teams here. But that doesn’t diminish the focus or preparation the U.S. Team uses to get ready for this game.
“It’s not awkward at all,” Krzyzewski said. “You have a performance to give, are you doing it on a Wednesday matinée or a Saturday night? It’s not who you are playing. You should never judge how you’re going to perform on who you’re potentially going to play against. You are a person performing, your team is performing. How do you do it? You never want to get in the habit of just getting by, because eventually, you don’t get by. So our goal is to make sure play hard, have good habits and we’re as sharp as we can be.”
After watching the film from Sunday’s win over France, Krzyzewski and his staff noticed plenty of these issues that needed correcting.
“We were playing another really good team. Tony Parker is one of the best players in the world. So I would have liked to defend him better at times,” Krzyzewski said. “Transition defense, we didn’t point and talk and pick our men up quick enough, and those were the only real open 3-pointers we gave up. But overall we did a good job.”
But they were far from flawless, and nowhere near where Krzyzewski knows they need to be to win gold. That’s why he had no problem with French swingman Nicolas Batum declaring that one of the teams in the Olympic field could beat the U.S. before this is all over.
“We showed at times during [against France] where they were better than we were. They just weren’t better than we were the entire game. So that’s fine,” Krzyzewski said. “We also feel we can beat anybody. What other people think, really, is not of too much significance. It’s about what we think and how we prepare.”
There’s no need to remind his players. That mantra has been ingrained in them throughout the years in USA Basketball and under Krzyzewski. Snicker at Tunisia all you want. Just know that Krzyzewski’s players will have no part of it, not even in passing or behind closed doors.
“Nobody comes to the Olympics thinking they can’t win,” Carmelo Anthony said. “They were good enough to get here, so that means they are good enough to beat anybody else playing here. That’s just the way you have to approach it. Only a fool shows up here thinking they’ve got it all figured out.”
The U.S. took its time against France, easing its way into a game that most expected to be much more hard-fought than it turned out to be. They also had to overcome some officiating that they felt was, to put it diplomatically, uneven.
“The game is called the same. But it’s administered differently,” Krzyzewski said while praising his team for maintain it’s composure in the midst of that first game fuss. “Again, it’s beautiful in each setting. It’s like the clay, the grass and the hard court. You have to be adaptable to it, because the surface isn’t going to change.”
And neither is the focus for the U.S. They will continue to grind, be it Tunisia or whoever they might face.
“We need to get better,” LeBron James said. “We know we don’t have time to waste an opportunity to get better. This is a long, but short tournament. We’ve got to take every practice, every film session, every game and try to improve. We’re not going to let our guard down no matter who we’re playing against. We can’t waste a minute going backwards. We have high goals.”