Monday, September 13, 2010

Team USA 2010 Gold More Impressive Than 2008

• More FIBA Worlds analysis: Durant + Defense = USA Gold

Heading into the 2008 Olympics, there was certainly more pressure on Jerry Colangelo, Mike Krzyzewski and USA Basketball to win than there was at the 2010 FIBA World Championship. Before winning gold in Beijing, the Colangelo-Krzyzewski program was still an unproven model. Even though vast improvements in the way the National Team conducted its business were plainly obvious, USA Basketball needed that gold for final validation.

That said, in 2008, everything was pointing in the right direction for Team USA. They were loaded, with four 2007-08 All-NBA First Team members, among others, and 11 of the 12 players on the roster had played on the 2006 and/or 2007 teams, to help build team continuity and get used to the differences in FIBA rules and their interpretations.

In 2010, meanwhile, these indicators were trending the wrong way. With the entire 2008 Olympic team declining to play in 2010, this version of Team USA was left without most of the top tier of proven American NBA players, and with only two players who had represented USA Basketball in the Colangelo-Coach K era (Chauncey Billups and Tyson Chandler in 2007; Lamar Odom also played for the 2004 Olympic team).

Based on the results of the past decade for Team USA, that level of talent and continuity had been a recipe for falling short of a gold medal. In our minds, winning gold in 2010 in the face of these obstacles - and with a team that just hadn't played together for more than a few weeks - was a more impressive feat than winning gold in 2008.


First off, we think Mike Krzyzewski did his finest work in his run as USA Basketball head coach in steering this ship to gold. Coach K is a true master of the big picture of team building, of creating a sense of shared purpose, and of defining a team's style and players' roles.

John Schuhmann of wrote an excellent piece from Istanbul on Coach K's "Six-Week Challenge" of pulling this team together, and we especially liked this excerpt on Coach K's general philosophy with this group:
    This is a much different group than the one Krzyzewski led to an Olympic gold medal in 2008. This roster, with six of the players either 21 or 22 years old, needs more instruction. Krzyzewski will point out that he has players at Duke that are the same age. But he admits there's only so much coaching you can do in six weeks.

    "What you want to do is put enough in that doesn't make them non-instinctive," he says. "We put in enough and allow some slippage, where it's not completely right, just so that we don't become basically anal in making something perfect. And hopefully attitude and speed can make up for it. It's just very unusual and it's unlike the other [international] teams, because they have that continuity [of returning players]."
No, they did not have the most flowing half-court offense, but this version of Team USA always knew who they were: they played hard to parlay their athleticism into a ferocious half-court defense and a punishing transition game. And, when in doubt, they put the ball in the hands of number 5.

Mike Krzyzewski's crowning achievement was becoming the first coach to repeat as NCAA champions in the post-Wooden era, with Duke in 1991-92.

Still, we would say that 2010 has the been the best year of Coach K's illustrious career, for winning the most improbable of his four national championships in March, followed up by winning USA Basketball's most challenging gold medal of the NBA era on Sunday.

It's easy to discount Coach K's work given that he had so much NBA talent, but hey, Spain was a team which should have challenged Team USA for gold, but they badly underachieved, and coaching was a significant part of the problem. Coach K got it done.


2010 was the ultimate test of the Colangelo-Krzyzewski program: could they win despite factors which had sunk previous USA Basketball teams? Obviously, they passed with flying colors. We'd single out a few other factors in this further validation of the Colangelo-Krzyzewski program:

- Integrating players such as Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Derrick Rose into the USA Basketball program in previous years as members of the Select Team, which practiced against the National Team, has clearly helped indoctrinate guys into the way business is done in the new era, and helped mitigate issues of team cohesion despite massive roster turnover.

- Team USA respects its opponent every game. It sounds simple, but a lack of respect cost the U.S. games unnecessarily in the pre-Colangelo/Coach K era. Also, placing the scouting department in the hands of respected international scout Tony Ronzone has ensured that the coaching staff is prepared for the opposing personnel.

- Setting up road games against Spain in Madrid and Greece in Athens during the pre-tournament phase turned out to be shrewd moves, considering the gold-medal game turned into a road game in Istanbul. Credit Colangelo and Coach K for knowing they had to get this team battle-tested. Much like Krzyzewski schedules Duke to simulate NCAA Tournament conditions, he had Team USA scheduled to be prepared for the FIBA World Championship.

With the Colangelo-Krzyzewski program in place, and Kevin Durant expected to be joined by a few 2008 Olympians, it's fairly safe to already install Team USA as overwhelming favorites for gold at London 2012.

• More FIBA Worlds analysis: Durant + Defense = USA Gold


At 4:56 PM, Blogger Phill said...

2012 will be amazing. There will be some good teams, but USA will be on top. Chris Paul/Deron Williams, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Lebron James, Dwight Howard. That's quite a starting 5. Holy bacon.

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