By W.G. Ramirez
LAS VEGAS — Coach Mike Krzyzewski got his first glimpse at the new-look U.S. national team, as the team opened camp at UNLV with just two players back from the 2012 national team that won the gold medal in London.
Carmelo Anthony returns for his fourth run at the Olympics, after winning a bronze medal in 2004 and gold medals in 2008 and 2012, while Kevin Durant is looking for a second gold medal after playing on the championship team in 2012.
And though there are 10 new faces on the team that will represent the U.S. in the Olympics, several were a part of the 2014 FIBA world championship team, and know what is expected of them. Making things easier, as it was for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 12-man roster has been set since June, giving Krzyzewski and his staff ample time to devise rotations and focus on the players they knew were coming.
“It’s the angst you go through in that week of determining from 16 to 12, (it) takes away from your preparation,” Krzyzewski said. “We have had none of that. That’s a huge advantage, and also for these guys, you got 12 guys (who) have been completely focused on being on this team. It’s really a good advantage.”
Krzyzewski said he was pleased with Anthony taking charge the first day, being a vocal leader for what he believes could be one of the best defensive teams he’s ever coached since becoming taking over in 2005. He also credited Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeMarcus Cousins for stepping up as leaders on the opening day of camp.
“It’s a new group of guys (so) I get a chance to go out there and kind of be a leader to the team and kind of enjoy it,” Anthony said. “For me, it’s about going over there and having fun, getting that feeling back, getting that fun feeling back and try to get a gold medal.”
As he’s done in year’s past, Krzyzewski met with the team and staff privately Sunday night, showing players video clips from previous years and delivering a motivational speech about what it means to represent the United States. With the recent unrest involving civilians and police officers, the message came across even stronger for this team.
“Whenever you get a chance to sit in that meeting and see and understand what we’re doing is bigger than us, as basketball players, it gives you chills and puts everything in perspective,” DeMar DeRozan said. “It makes your job easier to go out there and do what you love to do and represent your country.”
And as the national team takes on its new look, ushering in a new era, the 69-year-old Krzyzewski is making his final run with the Olympic team. Under his watch, Krzyzewski has led the U.S. to two gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics as well as the 2007 FIBA Americas Tournament and the 2010 and 2014 world championships.
Nonetheless, Krzyzewski said the most important thing is to avoid focusing on the milestones he, Anthony and Durant are headed toward, and aim toward maintaining a united front with the entire squad.
“All of us need to be in this moment, not in ‘this is my last time’ or ‘it’s the third gold medal for Carmelo,’” said Krzyzewski, who has led the Americans to a near-perfect 52-1 since 2005. “It’s ‘this team,’ and that’s what we’re trying to do, just be in this moment with this team. It’s one of the biggest mistakes any competitor can make, is to be in only your moment. They’re not going to play because it’s my last time being the Olympic coach. So I have to coach them like it’s my first time, and that’s how we’re going to do it.
“We just want to play as well as we can, and be worthy of winning the gold, so they’ll be worthy of continuing to win the respect of our country and the world.”