Posts Tagged ‘USA Basketball’

USAB program solid from top to bottom

Team USA, gold medal winners at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Team USA, gold medal winners at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

MADRID — It’s as American as apple pie, the deep-seeded need to be the best. For USA Basketball, gold has always been the goal.

It hasn’t always been as easy as it was Sunday, when the U.S. confirmed its international basketball dominance with a 129-92 win over Serbia in the gold medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. There was a time, not that long ago, that the national program was in shambles. It turned ugliest when the U.S. hobbled to a dismal sixth-place finish at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis. That was the first time a team composed entirely of NBA stars lost in international competition.

The blueprint for rebuilding Team USA was designed shortly after, born out of a respect for the global game that replaced the sense of entitlement that many with the team carried.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski understood  the gains the rest of the world made after the original Dream Team came here and dazzled the world at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

“When we started out nine years ago with Jerry and his staff, we had two goals,” Coach K said . “One was to try to win gold medals, 1A, and 1B was to win the respect of our country and the world and how it would be done. I think one of the reasons we won is because we do have that respect. We know how good everyone is. It’s beautiful basketball. We prepare like crazy and we learn from the international community.”

There were stumbles early, lessons to be learned from those stumbles and plenty of ground to be made up in terms of internal structure and a culture that had to be created. But USA Basketball is once again the gold standard. The best talent on the best teams at every level — U-19 and U-17 included — fly the USAB banner.

“I’m very pleased and excited and happy for where USA Basketball is today,” Colangelo said. “I can think back to 2005 when I was asked to take on that responsibility, and we had a game plan and now we’re seeing the fruition of that over the last decade. And it’s resulted in four gold medal championships, and it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Four cycles — World Cup/World Championships and Olympics alternating every two years — four straight gold medals and 45 straight wins later, it’s obvious that the master plan for USA Basketball’s championship infrastructure is firmly in place. (more…)

National pride works both ways for U.S.-Serbia in FIBA World Cup final


VIDEO: The GameTime crew looks at the USA-Serbia matchup and makes picks

By Sekou Smith and John Schuhmann

MADRID — Serbia will have a decided advantage in terms of the numbers of fans they’ll have in the crowd for Sunday’s gold medal game here at the FIBA World Cup. The Serbian crowd was loud and large during its semifinal win over France and the Serbian players interact with them constantly throughout games. 

“Serbian pride” is the one advantage big man Miroslav Raduljica claims his side will have against the U.S. National Team when they face off for gold.

Members of the U.S. National Team, which hasn’t played to a decidedly pro-U.S. crowd  in this competition from Bilbao to Barcelona and now Madrid, would beg to differ.

National pride works on both sides, even though this particular group of U.S. players haven’t worked together for the years and years their Serbian counterparts have.

“We’re playing for something bigger than ourselves right now,” Kenneth Faried said after practice Saturday. “We’re playing for our country. putting on that USA jersey means more than anything. It’s like you’re playing for the Army, Navy, the Marines … guys who fight for you every day”

Dramatics aside, just earning a spot on the U.S. National Team speaks volumes, considering the number of potential candidates.

“There’s no question,” Klay Thompson said. “It’s a privilege to play for the U.S.A. There are so many talented players that it’s truly an honor to get chosen to play on the world stage for the U.S.A. I’ve had one other competition experience with (the National Team), but nothing compares to this. We’ve been working for this all summer. So we have great pride in what we’re doing out there.”

Getting a feel for the gym

The U.S. team had an extra day between its semifinal win (Thursday) and Serbia’s (Friday). But the U.S. had to travel about 400 miles from Barcelona to Madrid. And Saturday was their first exposure to the Palacio de los Deportes in Spain’s capital.

“It wasn’t really an extra day of rest,” USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It was a travel day. That’s one thing about coming from Barcelona, we have to get a comfort level for this court quickly, where whoever we played would have had a week playing on this court and not travel.”

No excuses, though.

“That’s not going to decide the game,” Krzyzewski added. “The game will be decided on whether we can play defense well enough to stop their very potent offense and score against their very good defense.”

Rematch

Since the break up of Yugoslavia, the United States and Serbia have never played each other in a senior-level, international competition. But this is a rematch of the championship game of the 2007 U19 tournament, when Serbia, playing at home, avenged a preliminary-round loss and beat the U.S., 74-69, for gold. Two Serbian players from that team, Raduljica and Stefan Markovic, start for the senior team now. And Stephen Curry was on that U.S. junior team.

“That’s a bad feeling,” Curry remembered. “It was tough winning silver in that game, so hopefully we can be on the other side of it this time around.”

France wins bronze

Nicolas Batum led France with 27 points as they edged Lithuania 95-93 in the bronze medal game Saturday night. Boris Diaw gave France the lead for good with a nifty reverse with 1:27 to play.

Jonas Valanciunas paced Lithuania with 25 points and nine rebounds.

Playing through the pain

Rudy Gay will get the U.S. iron man award, no matter if they take home gold or silver. The Sacramento Kings forward suffered a bruised jaw, a chipped tooth and might need a root canal when he returns home.

That skirmish at the end of the semifinal win over Lithuania was the aftermath of a cheap shot Gay took in the third quarter from one of the Lavrinovich twins, Gay wasn’t sure which one of them it was.

Gay will, however, be ready to play in Sunday’s gold medal game but he’ll do so while dealing with considerable pain.

Future star

Some of the U.S. players were afraid to try pronouncing the names of their Serbian opponents, but there’s a clear respect for how well Serbia has been playing. In particular, these guys know how hot Milos Teodosic (20.0 points per game, 74.2 percent effective field-goal percentage) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (15.3, 80 percent) have been in the medal rounds.

When asked about Bogdanovic, who was drafted by the Phoenix Suns this year, but will play in Turkey for at least two years, Krzyzewski was effusive.

“I think he has NBA potential now,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a very gifted player. He has great length for a guy who can shoot like that. I think he’s going to be an outstanding player in the NBA.”

Faried, U.S. bigs ‘ready for whatever’

(Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

The big men for Team USA have key to its success in the World Cup. (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

BARCELONA — Playing the underdog is one thing.

But being disrespected?

That’s something U.S. National Team forward Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets) cannot tolerate. Not at home and certainly not on the other side of the world here in the FIBA World Cup.

Faried took offense to the suggestion that the U.S. big men — he and Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee — will no longer dominate the opposition now that they are down to their final two games of this competition.

“Massively direspectful,” Faried said after practice Wednesday at Palau Saint Jordi when it was suggested that the dominant run for the U.S. bigs was over. “We’ll have to see tomorrow, I guess.”

Lithuania’s frontline, led by Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors), is next up in Thursday’s semifinal. And Brazil and Spain, with their deep frontcourts loaded with NBA big men could await in the gold medal game Sunday in Madrid.

The battle of bigs Thursday, though, is first up on the priority list. And Lithuania, unlike quarterfinal victim Slovenia Tuesday night, had no answers for Faried, Davis and the crew.

The U.S. dominated the offensive boards (23) and controlled the action as a result of their relentless work on the boards early.

“Coach definitely wants all the bigs to get offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, and wants every rebound to be ours so they only get one shot,” Davis said. “So that’s what me, Kenneth, DeMarcus, Rudy (Gay), that’s all we try to do; Andre and Mason, just try and get every rebound.”

Valanciunas had grabbed 13 in Lithuania’s quarterfinal win over Turkey, outworking Omer Asik (New Orleans Pelicans) en route to a monstrous rebounding performance.

“He’s, so far, going to be the best low-post presence that we’ve faced,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He gets a piece of the paint in numerous ways. And he’s a great offensive rebounder. Not a good one, but a great one. And I think he’s a tough guy to match up with. Just the opposite when you’re trying to match up on the perimeter when their bigs take you outside. Thes guys take you inside and trying to outrebound them will be a challenge for our team.”

A challenge Faried says he and his U.S. counterparts are more than ready for.

“He’s a good big, and he’s going to be a force down there,” he said of Valanciunas. “But we’re ready for him. We’re ready for whatever.”

Coach K mum on Deng, Ferry

Krzyzewski said that he would rather not comment on the goings on back home involving two of his former players at Duke, Miami Heat forward Luol Deng and Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, who are at the center of controversy involving racist comments Ferry uttered on a conference call earlier this summer.

Ferry has been disciplined internally by the Hawks and Deng has already released his statement in response to the firestorm Ferry’s statement caused.

“I’m not up to date or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “I am not abreast … I’m just not there, so I don’t want to comment on anything that I don’t know anything about. I don’t know much about it … so I’d rather not comment on it.”

Splash Bros to the rescue

If one Splash Brother struggles, you can count on the other to pick up the slack. Klay Thompson‘s 20-point performance in the win over Slovenia came on the heels of Steph Curry‘s 20-point effort in Saturday’s win over Mexico.

Thompson has stepped up to any and all defensive challenges as well, digging in on opposing perimeter players and showing himself to be a more than capable one-on-one stopper for a U.S. team that didn’t necessarily have a specialist to fill that role, at least on paper.

“Klay has been a consistent high-level performer for us,” Coach K said. “He’s just doing what he does in the NBA, and that’s being an outstanding player. He can hit shots but he can really play defense. We knew that when we started trials that he would be a valuable, valuable … A number of these guys are like having starters in there all the time, but Klay has accepted his role really well.”

Cousins is U.S. wild card going forward


VIDEO: Before World Cup play, DeMarcus Cousins did major work last season for the Kings

BARCELONA — DeMarcus Cousins might barely play in the U.S. National Team’s quarterfinal matchup against Slovenia here Tuesday at the Palau Saint Jordi.

Circumstances beyond his control will dictate whether the biggest and perhaps best, by NBA standards, big man on the U.S. roster has a chance to show what he can do.

Such is life in the USA Basketball bubble, where All-Stars are asked to be reserves and a dominant big man has to wait his turn against an opponent that will spread the floor with as many as five 3-point shooters in an attempt to agitate the U.S.

One night you are the man. The next, you’re on the bench watching someone else play that role, depending on the matchup.

“It’s definitely a change for me,” Cousins said. “It’s an adjustment. I’m not used to coming off the bench, not used to playing limited minutes. It’s a huge adjustment. But everybody has a different role, and in order for us to get that ultimate goal, that gold medal, we have to play our roles to the best of our abilities.”

The fact that Cousins is even here and a part of this particular team raised eyebrows for some. Like several players on this team, he wasn’t viewed as the ideal fit. The need for fleet-footed bigs with shooting range out to and beyond the 3-point line is a must in FIBA competition.

The skills Cousins brings to the table — a traditional, low-post big man who does best work around the basket and with his back to it often — don’t mesh with the style of the day. But he represents a strategic shift for the U.S. and a serves as a potential wild card as this week goes on. If the U.S. is able to win its way through to this weekend’s medal games in Madrid, a rugged big man with his size and skill could come in handy.

As well as Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried, the U.S. starters at center and power forward, respectively, Cousins has proved himself indispensible as the Plan B big man.

“I think he’s come a long way,” said USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo. “I’m really, really happy for him. And I’m really happy for us. The one thing, he came in with a desire to make it. This was big to him. So he already had a leg up in terms of attitude and he wanted this thing. I think he’s paid his dues. He’s worked hard. Had a little setback when he went down. Fortunately it wasn’t something that knocked him out. But right now he’s playing really well. And his size and his ability could be real factor before this is over.”

Cousins was needed in Saturdays win over Mexico, whose Gustavo Ayon worked the U.S. for 25 points and eight rebounds and worked over Davis and Faried in the process but wasn’t able to take physical advantage of Cousins.

U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski praised Cousins for his work and lauded his diligence in making himself a factor on this team.

“We have believed in DeMarcus right from start of training camp,” he said. “All the reports about him not making the team and all that were all … not right. We felt he would be the perfect guy with or in place of Anthony at times, but more in the place of Anthony, and I think it’s just a matter of him continuing to get in better shape, our guys getting accustomed that when he does come into the game he’s different than Anthony and so to look for him. I think they see him more now, and I think his defense has really improved. He tried to take three charges (against Mexico). He played Ayon pretty well without getting help, so they couldn’t get a three off of him. I thought he played. He’d get an A+ from me, let’s just put it that way.”

The strategic shift to incorporate a more traditional big man into the mix was done partly out of necessity and also based on the specific challenges of this particular competition (Spain and the brothers Gasol and Serge Ibaka loom in a potential gold medal showdown).

Having the physical firepower to play any style was a part of the U.S. game plan this time around.

“Since we’ve been together, and I’m going back now to 2005, we didnt have a major presence in the middle,” Colangelo said. “We just didn’t. Dwight Howard was a young Dwight Howard then and Chris Bosh was his back up, a young back up. After that it was different. We didn’t have that real dominant kind of guy in the middle. We went with more of a perimeter game and we were structured that way.

“So this was a little change in strategy. And it just so happens, as things developed. If you were to add Kevin Durant and Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin, that still would have put us in a situation where we might not have looked to some of the bigger guys in the middle. So circumstances caused us, not forced us, but caused us to see what other options do we have here. And we looked at our bigs and said, ‘let’s go with them.’”

That was music to the ears of Cousins and fellow behemoth Andre Drummond, another surprise addition to the roster.

What sort of impact they have, however, depends on the specific matchups.

“The only thing that is on our mind is to win,” Coach K said. “And winning means that you should have a nine or ten man rotation, so that’s all we are looking for. The game will give you the opportunity to put the right people in, because of matchups, and that is what we are looking for … We are going to match up according to what they do, because the first thing is we have to play defense against them.”

Cousins has shown himself to be a willing defender and rim protector in his minutes here, not to mention a more than capable rebounder and physical force. He’s never had a problem scoring and hasn’t against anyone he’s faced so far.

And yet he readily admits that he’s still finding his way against the big men he’s dealt with the past six games.

“Basically, it’s just me finding my role, getting used to the style of play and learning how to be effective,” he said. “It’s the first time for me, playing this way. For me it’s a process. But I’m coming into my own. I think you can see that from the way I’ve been playing. I’m getting better as we keep playing.”

Morning shootaround — Aug. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Irving to start vs. Slovenia | Drew ‘blindsided’ by Bucks firing | City of Charlotte ready to spend to upgrade arena

No. 1: Irving to start final Team USA tune-up — As of last week, the Team USA roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup is ready to go. (And if you missed it yesterday, our John Schuhmann pointed out how the teams in the FIBA pool boast plenty of NBA players, too.) Before FIBA play starts this weekend, though, Team USA has one last exhibition date — a matchup with Slovenia today at 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2). According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, Kyrie Irving will get the start at point guard tonight over Derrick Rose as coach Mike Krzyzewski irons out how best to use his All-Star guard combination:

Kyrie Irving will start opposite Goran Dragic at point guard Tuesday night when Team USA plays Slovenia in its final tuneup game leading into the FIBA World Cup.

But Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, in tabbing Irving as his starter against the Dragic-led Slovenians, told ESPN.com that one option under consideration is letting Irving and Derrick Rose trade off as the starter throughout the tournament, which opens Saturday in Bilbao with the Yanks facing Finland.

Krzyzewski says he can also envision Irving and Rose playing together once the tournament starts as Rose continues to acclimate himself to full-speed basketball after two major knee injuries limited him to just 10 games over the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

“I asked him today, and he said, ‘I feel great,’” Krzyzewski said of Rose. “He did everything. He’s full go. I think there’s a part of him that’s like: ‘Quit asking me how I feel. I’m good.’ So I’m not going to ask him anymore.”

Having relied heavily on small-ball lineups in its last two major competitions, USA Basketball officials wanted the ability to play big lineups in this tournament when needed. The tag team of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins won’t necessarily be unveiled against a Slovenian squad that shoots 3-pointers as liberally as anyone in the field, but Team USA is sure to bust out that alignment on occasion en route to the Sept. 14 championship game, where host Spain and its hulking front-line trio of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka could be waiting.

Despite the pullouts of Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Russell Westbrook, as well as the emotional injury loss of Paul George, Team USA remains a heavy favorite to cruise through Group C play with no real resistance. Turkey, New Zealand, the Dominican Republic and Mike Fratello-coached Ukraine are the Yanks’ other opponents in pool play after the Finland game.


VIDEO: Relive Team USA’s top 5 plays from its game vs. Puerto Rico (more…)

For Kenneth Faried, same story, different chapter

Dominican Republic v USA

This isn’t the first time Kenneth Faried has proved the doubters wrong.

NEW YORK – After a week in New York City and two decisive wins in exhibition games, the final 12 players for the USA Basketball men’s roster for the FIBA Basketball World Cup have yet to be announced. But one player who seems to have cemented a spot in the starting lineup is Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, a player whose inclusion in the initial player pool was questioned by some.

“Since we’ve been here I’ve, I guess, proven people wrong saying I wasn’t a good fit,” said Faried after posting 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in 12 minutes during a 112-86 win over Puerto Rico. “People saying ‘That kid’s not gonna make it on the team.’ ‘Oh, why did they bring Kenneth? Why is he even starting?’ Hey, I’m gonna just keep proving people wrong.”

Proving people wrong is nothing new for Faried. While playing at Technology High School in Newark, NJ, Faried wasn’t recruited extensively by bigger college programs because he hadn’t played against elite high school competition. Faried ended up at Morehead State University in Kentucky, where he finished his four-year career as the NCAA all-time rebounding leader (post-1973, when the NCAA split into Divisions) as well as a collegiate second-team All-American.

Faried’s college credentials didn’t help much when the NBA came calling, as he dropped to the Nuggets with the 22nd pick in the 2011 Draft. He totaled just 20 minutes in Denver’s first 21 games that season, but his relentless energy in practice earned him a chance, and once he broke into the lineup he couldn’t be removed. He finished his rookie year on the NBA’s All-Rookie first team.

Faried impressed USA Basketball brass last summer at the team’s training camp, and parlayed that into an invite to this summer’s camp. In the weeks since, he’s used his perpetual motor and nose for the ball to earn what looks like a starting spot on Team USA.

He’s heard the questions — “I hear everybody saying stuff. I hear everything.” — and, as he’s done at every level, he’s answered them with resounding clarity.

“Same story, different chapter, basically,” Faried said. “Again, I’m just out here trying to prove everybody wrong. And again, I have to do it at another level, and that’s the USA level. Hopefully, after this run is over with, we come home with the gold, people will say, ‘Oh, OK, we apologize,’ and show me some respect. If not, until then, I’m gonna have to keep proving people wrong.”

Against Puerto Rico, with Coach Mike Krzyzeski still trying out different line-up combinations, Faried was told he wouldn’t play much in the first half, and he didn’t, totaling less than 5 minutes. But in the third quarter, Faried showed why he’s called “The Manimal,” teaming with Anthony Davis to give the U.S. a dynamic interior presence, unleashing a flurry of blocks and rebounds and dunks and tip-ins to help the USA push what was a five-point halftime lead to a 20-point advantage heading into the fourth.

“I play hard and my teammates start having fun, and my energy is contagious,” said Faried. “It’s been contagious my whole life. People come out basically to see me play, and guys feed off my energy, and this is what happens: We win games.

“I feel as though we’re having fun, if anything. When you’re having fun everything else just falls into place. Guys want to get after it. We’re playing great defense. That’s what we’re trying to do, stick to our motto: Play defense. Lock down whoever their best player is, whoever their second go-to player is. We want to lock down all five, basically.”

Don’t make the mistake of thinking Faried somehow feeds off the slights accumulated throughout his career. He hears them, he shrugs them off, and then he outruns and outworks any doubts.

“No, that really is not what drives me,” Faried said. “Just going out there and playing every day, and lacing my sneakers up, and being blessed to play the game I love. I don’t go to work every day. I just go have fun.”

It’s been quite a ride, but the guy who has spent much of his life being overlooked is smack in the middle of Team USA. Just don’t ask him if he feels like he belongs.

“I know I belong,” said Faried. “Ain’t no feel like it, I know I belong. So I’m not worried about anything.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 172) Featuring John Dimopoulos

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It’s not as foolish as you think ….

Spain as the favorite at the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

It’s not a joke.

It might be a little strong, but again, it’s not a joke.

The home team has every reason to believe that playing on home soil will give them a chance, not necessarily an advantage, to spring the upset against the reigning World and Olympic champion U.S. Team.

The U.S. Men’s Senior National Team has been wounded by defections and injuries in the lead up to the competition, which begins next week in Bilbao. Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Paul George are all out of the competition for various reasons.

The U.S. still has the deepest and best roster (including Derrick Rose, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis and the NBA’s “best all-around player” in James Harden), but they won’t have the most experienced crew. And they won’t have the home court advantage. That belongs to the Gasols and Spain, the team international hoops guru John Dimopoulos of www.EuroJohnBall.com suggests on Episode 172 of the Hang Time Podcast, should go into the competition with all of the confidence in the world.

We dive in with the latest headlines around the NBA, TNT’s Charles Barkley doing his #ALSMarshmallow/IceBucketChallenge, a peak ahead at the 2014 FIBA World Cup and more on Episode 172 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring John Dimopoulos of EuroJohnBall.com:

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley takes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (with marshmallows as an appetizer)

With holes to fill, Rudy Gay adds depth and experience to Team USA

VIDEO: Rudy Gay talks about his chances to make Team USA

NEW YORK — Since Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski took control of USA Basketball, they’ve spoken often of building USA Basketball into more of a “program,” establishing continuity by having a pool of players they’d be able to call upon for the various international competitions.

Never was that depth more necessary than this summer, when Team USA lost three key frontcourt members (Paul George, Kevin Love and Kevin Durant) in the span of a few weeks. In need of size and scoring, Colangelo was pleased to get a call volunteering his services from Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay, who was part of USA Basketball’s 2010 World Championship team and represented the USA in the 2005 Global Games.

Being welcomed back to the USA Basketball fold was important for Gay.

“It means a lot,” he said on Wednesday night, after scoring a team-high 13 points in a 105-62 exhibition win over the Dominican Republic. “The fact that I was one of the options, and the fact that they trusted in me to be ready, and they thought I could help.”

When Durant announced he was out, Gay was two weeks into his workouts to prepare for the regular season, weights and beginning basketball drills.

“This is a time when you’re usually just working by yourself or playing pickup,” said Gay. “To play competitively and also have a little more structure, or a lot more structure, helps you going into your season.

“Since my surgery I haven’t really been able to play competitive basketball in the summer, so it’s big just to be able to get back and play competitive basketball.”

In last week’s exhibition against Brazil, Gay scored five points in a dozen minutes. Tonight against the Dominican Republic, Gay played almost 18 minutes and scored in a variety of ways, including knocking down a three and getting to the free-throw line.

Without Love, Durant and George, the U.S. team lost most of their interior depth. The 6-foot-8 Gay gives them a player with the size to swing between both forward positions, and even switch onto a center defensively in a pinch, as well as the offensively ability to score from the inside or outside. Combine that versatility with his international basketball experience, and Gay would seem to be a lock to make the final roster. Not that Colangelo and Krzyzewski have given Gay any hints as to his roster status: “None. None. That was agreed to upon me coming. I told them I didn’t want anything, I wanted to prove my way. We didn’t have a conversation about anything.”

Gay’s late arrival to this U.S. team was made simpler by the continuity of the USA Basketball program — just as the USA Basketball staff was familiar with Gay’s game and what he could bring, Gay was familiar with Coach K’s system and expectations. But while he mostly played small forward in 2010, Gay is now spending most of his time at the four, or power forward position.

“It’s not a natural four,” Gay said. “So I’m trying to learn the spots they want me to be at also how I can be effective at them. It’s more like a stretch four, especially when I’m in there. I think that’s what coach wants from me and the kind of game they want to see me play.

“I can guard different positions, make it easier on our guards. And that makes it easier for the whole team.”

For Coach K, Team USA, day at West Point goes beyond hoops


VIDEO: Coach K talks about Team USA at West Point

WEST POINT, N.Y. – Addressing the crowd in Christl Arena just before Monday’s USA Basketball open practice began, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “I take West Point everywhere I go.”

Krzyzewski attended the United States Military Academy at West Point as a cadet, and was a three-year letterman under coach Bob Knight from 1967-69. After five years of service in the Army and one year as an assistant coach at Indiana under Knight, Krzyzewski returned to West Point as coach, his first head coaching position. In five years at Army, before moving on to Duke in 1980, Krzyzewski accumulated a 73-59 record.

Which explains in part why Krzyzewski was looking forward to Monday as part of the USA Basketball’s Men’s National Team’s preparation for the 2014 FIBA World Cup. The practice itself was nothing more than shooting drills and layup lines, with a short scrimmage mixed in. But Krzyzewski felt the lessons learned were less about basketball and more about teaching what it means to represent the United States.

“A day like today is one of our most important days,” Krzyzewski said, “because these guys get a chance of feeling America, feeling what it is to be on the U.S. team. You know, we’ve done that with all of our teams, whether it be Arlington Cemetery, the Statue of Liberty, Wounded Warriors, people coming in from the military to talk. To spend a day here is better than any offensive or defensive drill you could have that bonds a team together. That’s what today was about.”

The team spent the early part of the day touring the campus and doing things like watching cadets run an obstacle course, observing a Combat Water Survival Swim Lab, as well as visiting the West Point Cemetery. Just before the practice, they ate lunch in the mess hall with the cadets.

“They only have like, 20-25 minutes to eat,” said Team USA guard Derrick Rose. “That’s what shocked me. How can you even prepare yourself to eat with 20-25 minutes? That’s what shocked me. And waking up. I think they have to get up at 5:30 or something like that. To me, that would be devastating. But it tells you that they’ve committed their whole life to this, and that’s pretty cool.”

“You walk around this place and you just … feel,” said Krzyzewski. “You feel good about being an American, and you feel a little bit more proud of being a USA Basketball player and coach. And that’s what we wanted our guys to get today. You can talk about it, you can see it, but today we all had a chance to feel it. And that’s why we do these things with the military.”

Despite spending over three decades at Duke, it’s obvious that West Point still plays a huge role in Coach K’s life. He calls West Point “the foundation of who I am.” He still wears his West Point class ring just above his wedding band (“I never take it off”), and he visits the campus at least once a year.

“You go to the best leadership school in the world, and something’s gotta rub off, you know,” Krzyzewski says. “Part of it is organization, understanding of teamwork, not accepting failure — all these things. I got married on graduation day here at West Point. And I lived here for five years when I coached, so it’s been a cool place.”

Even his former Duke players understand Krzyzewski’s special relationship with West Point, as they heard him frequently reference West Point during locker room motivational sessions.

“You know, 30 years at Duke, he’s got some Duke stories,” admitted Team USA center Mason Plumlee, who played for Krzyzewski at Duke from 2009-2013. “But he’ll always reach back to some of his West Point stories — when he was a player, when he was a coach here. The most frequent were the ones where Bob Knight was telling what he could and couldn’t do. Those were always good stories.”

After the open practice, the team headed back to New York City to prepare for exhibitions against the Dominican Republic (Wednesday) and Puerto Rico (Friday). While Monday might have been about team building off the court, with Paul George injured and Kevin Durant gone this group first assembled in Vegas, Krzyzewski says there is plenty of work left to do in the gym.

“We need a lot of practice time, quickly, because we’ve had so many changes in our roster. And the guys are working hard but hopefully the next few days will be good for us.”

Back to work: USAB deals with new injury and the weight of one withdrawal

DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis got tangled up in Team USA's scrimmage Thursday.

DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis got tangled up in Team USA’s scrimmage Thursday.

CHICAGO – After 12 days of upheaval, hand-wringing, rest and re-commitment, Team USA went back to work Thursday with the first of two workout-and-scrimmage sessions, in preparation for their tune-up game against the Brazil national team Saturday night at United Center.

Jerry Colangelo, managing director of USA Basketball’s men’s team, opened the midday session with a pep talk, sharing the encouraging prognosis on Indiana wing Paul George, whose gruesome right-leg fractures Aug. 1 marred what to that point had been a stellar practice week in Las Vegas.

Then, a couple hours after Colangelo talked to the 16 NBA players vying for 12 Team USA roster spots, Sacramento big man DeMarcus Cousins raised the red flag of injuries again. He got tangled up with New Orleans’ Anthony Davis chasing after a loose ball and wound up lying on the court, grabbing at his right knee.

The early word was a strain, which later was amended to a bone bruise. By mid-afternoon, Cousins – who had limped out of the gym after receiving treatment – minimized the damage via social media.

Still, Cousins’ availability the rest of this week remains unknown. George will be honored via some shooting shirts the U.S. players don Saturday and for their remaining tune-up games before heading to Spain, though of course his 2014-15 season is over for the Pacers and for him.

And then there’s the very large elephant that filled the very large gymnasium Thursday, NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant‘s decision to withdraw last week, citing mental and physical fatigue despite participating in the Las Vegas sessions.

Colangelo said he was not surprised when Durant called him to withdraw, suggesting he noticed wear and tear in Oklahoma City’s four-time scoring champ during the stay in Vegas.

But it all seemed to hit Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski as news, because he had fashioned the national squad’s attack around Durant. After Thursday’s two-plus hour session, Krzyzewski bemoaned the lost preparation time, having Durant quit after rather than before the work started.

“We had a whole camp building what we’re doing around him,” Krzyzewski said. “So that’s the very first thing: You had one of the great scorers at the [power forward position]. So how does that change your offense? That changes your offense immensely.

“You have to do more to get your guards shots. I mean, these guards are really good, but they were complementing one another – Kevin with those guards. … Now we have to look at developing our inside and getting the guards more involved.”

To hear Krzyzewski tell it, losing Durant to his abrupt personal decision is little different from losing George to that devastating injury.

“You don’t replace Kevin Durant. You look different,” he said. “We have today and tomorrow to look different before we play a really good team. That’s a concern for me, because we were pretty far along.

“We had our best camp ever in Vegas since I’ve coached. We had more strategy in, to play a certain way. And then Kevin deciding not to play, we didn’t practice until we’re here. So it’s concerning. Hopefully we’ll be good enough on Saturday.”

Sacramento forward Rudy Gay, a member of the 2010 FIBA World Cup team, joined Team USA in time for Thursday’s workout. He said he’s in good enough shape and needed only to catch up with certain sets and play-calls. He has moved into Durant’s roster spot for now, but he isn’t trying to replace Durant’s production or style.

“I wish I could play like the MVP,” Gay said, smiling. “No, I’m not coming here to fill his footsteps. I just want to play hard and help this team get a W. I’m not going to do it just like him.”

Picking up the slack from Durant – and George, for that matter – figures to be a collective thing. Neither Krzyzewski nor the players nominated anyone to understudy the Durant role. More likely, the offensive burden will fall more on guards such as Stephen Curry, James Harden, Derrick Rose and Klay Thompson, with more of a shift to the outside. Also, Team USA might show feistier, small-ball lineups and dial up their defense, which was at a fever pitch already on Thursday.

“You can’t replace Kevin Durant – what he does, that’s impossible,” Thompson said. “Not having Kevin out there … if a play breaks down, you can just throw it to him and he’s going to get you a bucket.

“You just have to do it collectively. The challenge, I don’t think it’s going to be scoring. I just think it’s going to be who’s gonna rise as a leader. I’m not worried about it actually because we’ve got guys who have experience at this level – we’ve got Steph, Rudy Gay, James Harden, D. Rose.”

Said Atlanta’s Kyle Korver, another deep threat whose touches might go up a bit: “Our guard play is amazing. And that’s going to be the strength of our team now. A lot of what we do is going to be predicated off of our guard play. … I don’t think we’re going to get to the end of the shot-clock much.”

George’s freak injury revived some debate on the risks faced by NBA players – and the teams that employ and guarantee them millions of dollars – in international play such as this and the Olympics. Durant’s late withdrawal is seen by some as a second-guess and a preemptive move to avoid a mishap of his own. Cousins’ limp off the floor Thursday was yet another reminder.

But there still were 16 players in the gym, to be cut down to 12 by the time Team USA leaves New York Aug. 23. If there was any trepidation, no one was showing or saying.

“I didn’t sense anything,” Korver said. “We’re basketball players. This is what we do. … More so than anything, what gets you hurt is playing to not get hurt. When you get to this level, you have to be able to shut that out.

“We’d love to have them. We understand why Kevin’s not here. Obviously we feel horrible for Paul. But I think there’s still a lot of potential with the guys that we have.”