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Revamped U.S. basketball squad to focus on the team

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. Olympic basketball team will go to Beijing with familiar faces but a new attitude in the hope of ending a series of humbling international defeats, coaches said on Tuesday.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the United States directs his team's play against Argentina during their game in the FIBA Americas regional qualifying basketball tournament to decide two berths for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in Las Vegas, Nevada, August 30, 2007. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

“I think in some respects over the years we’ve been a little bit arrogant about the game, in that we’ve said it’s our game,” said head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who also coaches at college power Duke University.

“It’s not our game, it’s the world’s game, and we’re playing a different game when you play international basketball.”

Despite being laden with National Basketball Association all-stars, U.S. international squads have performed poorly overseas.

The team finished with a disappointing bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and they have been embarrassed in other international competitions in recent years.

The one-on-one moves and poor shooting of the often youthful American squads have been exposed by quick-passing, excellent-shooting sides from Argentina -- the gold medal winners in Athens -- Greece, Lithuania and Puerto Rico.

The new era of global competition is a contrast to the domination of past U.S. “dream teams” at the Olympics.

The U.S. organizers adopted a new approach in 2005, giving NBA Phoenix Suns’ general manager Jerry Colangelo unprecedented control of who would coach and play for the team.

Colangelo, speaking at the U.S. Olympic Team’s “media summit” in Chicago, said the gap between the United States and the rest of the world had closed with roughly 75 players from 30 countries playing in the NBA.

“I’ve always been a firm believer that basketball is the ultimate team game,” he said.

“The more you play with one another, the better you can become. That a good team can beat a team of all-stars, that was shown in the Olympics in ‘O4.

“In many of those countries they have a national team structure, and many of those players have been together since the time they were introduced to the game, so they grew up together,” added Colangelo.


Suns’ coach Mike D’Antoni, who spent years coaching internationally, is one of Krzyzewski’s “co-head coaches” brought in to give U.S. players a sense of what is different and to instill his brand of fast-paced basketball.

Colangelo interviewed players and selected 33 to form the core of the team, many holdovers from past squads, who were asked to make a three-year commitment.

“The last two years we’ve seen our program develop to where, whether it be Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, whoever the guys are on the team, they feel they’re part of a team,” Krzyzewski said.

“We’ve asked them to be committed to play for their country, and not just play.”

Already, the team has practiced or played exhibitions together for 10 weeks over the past two summers, compared to the hastily assembled 2004 squad that practiced only a few weeks together.

Depending on injuries and the need for certain roles to be filled -- such as outside shooters to break down zone defenses the Americans are likely to face -- the 12-man roster with three alternates will be chosen for the team’s first Olympic contest on August 10.