Krzyzewski takes USA back to basics

To get back on top, Duke coach sees purpose in taking group of stars all the way to the beginning

July 22, 2006


— Every morning, the members of the new Team USA wake up, shower, have breakfast, take the bus and go into a classroom.

They study charts, watch informational videos and have special guest lectures. There are guidelines established about proper behavior, how to treat their teammates and how to share. Only then do the basketballs come out.

Indeed, USA Basketball's Renaissance has the feel of elementary school during the two-week training camp that started at UNLV. Elementary school is basic and needed, and so is what Team USA is going through after badly losing its international edge.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski called this week's exercises "historic," not because of their grandeur, but because of their originality. Following the Dream Team's smashing debut in 1992, it was always assumed NBA stars would simply report for duty and win the gold. However, the Americans haven't claimed the World Championship since 1994 and limped to a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics.

So Krzyzewski and managing director Jerry Colangelo constructed the process that is unfolding. It started with getting a three-summer commitment from the players and continues with the large-scale team-building effort under way.

"We didn't have a program after the Dream Team; we just selected teams," Krzyzewski said. "Now we're trying to start something new that can become an example."

In 2004, Team USA had a four-day training camp in Jacksonville, Fla. The team played one exhibition against Puerto Rico and then bolted for Europe. There, the team went on an exhibition tour in which it played two countries, Turkey and Germany, that weren't even taking part in the Olympics and was blasted by a team that was, Italy. To those who had been watching, it was no surprise when Puerto Rico beat Team USA in the first game of Olympic play.

Now, there's been a specialized coaching staff assembled. Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni is teaching the art of the fast break and how to take advantage of international rules, which he learned in his time as a player and coach in Italy. Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan has been brought in to work on defense.

Syracuse University's master of the zone, Jim Boeheim, is also on the staff. Krzyzewski won't be playing zone, but Team USA will see a lot of it. Former Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Team USA coach Rudy Tomjanovich has been put in charge of scouting.

The tour leading up to the World Championships in Japan includes seven days of practice time and games against potential opponents. Everything is backed up with a sense of unity.

It was a process that started Tuesday night, when the team gathered for the first time for dinner and Krzyzewski made an impassioned speech.

"We're talking about standards, how we're going to act on the court, off the court, how we react after a foul," Krzyzewski said. "I don't think any of it is hard. We want to represent ourselves; so far they have a great spirit, and I'm really pleased."


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