Right now the biggest problem facing the U.S. men’s basketball team is a bus driver.
“So far we have gotten lost on every one of our bus trips,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski lamented Friday. “Right now it feels very chaotic. Literally we’ve had four [trips] and we were lost on every stage in the last two days. If we shoot that well we are going to be lights out. We got to get our bus driver to come up with our game plan for these games.”
Bus driving aside, not much else seems to be stopping the U.S. team which is loaded with NBA talent including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. So far the team is 5-0 in exhibition games, including a 100-78 rout over Spain, considered the other team to beat at the Olympics.
The team and its stars are among the biggest attractions at the Games and a press conference to introduce the players was jammed Friday. The U.S. players arrived in the athletes village Thursday and began practising at the Olympic venue Friday. The Americans' first game is Saturday against France, which includes NBA star guard Tony Parker.
“We have to play our style,” Krzyzewski added. “We can’t conform to another team’s style. We have to play fast and we have to really work hard and create a tempo in the game that is conducive to us.”
Krzyzewski knows all too well how much international basketball has improved, especially since 1992 when the so called Dream Team, loaded with NBA stars such as Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, stole the show at the Barcelona Games and blew away the competition.
"I love where the game is at right now and it’s going to keep growing,” said Krzyzewski, head coach at Duke University who was an assistant on the 1992. He credited better coaching, teaching, athletes and a commitment by young people all over to basketball.
“It would be neat if we could have one uniform way of playing all over,” added Krzyzewski who has been the U.S. head coach since 2006, and piled up a record of 54-1.
Comparisons with the 1992 team do not go over well with the current players, many of whom never saw that team compete.
“We are our own team. The ‘92 Dream Team is the ‘92 Dream Team,” said James. When asked if he had any memory of that team, he snapped: “No. I was eight years old. I hadn’t started playing basketball yet.”
He also wouldn’t be drawn into a debate about whether the 2012 team could be the 1992 team.
“It’s never going to happen. Father Time is not going to allow that to happen so it doesn’t even matter,” he said. “I know we have a great team. If we play as a team we are capable of being one of the best teams ever assembled.”
Kobe Bryant tried to play down the comparison as well, but didn’t back away from comments he has made about beating the 1992 team.
“People who think we can’t beat that team, it’s silly,” he said. “I didn’t say we were a better team. You think we can’t beat that team one time?”
When told that U.S. President Barack Obama has come out in favour of the 1992 team, Bryant added: “He said the ‘92 Dream Team is a better team. He’s right. They are a better team. But the question was can we beat them? Yes we can.”
For one player, Anthony Davis, the discussion is irrelevant. At 19, he hadn't been born when the Dream Team played.
When asked Friday if he knew anything about the 1992 team he said: “I don’t know anything.”
The U.S. team lost much of its potency in recent weeks because of injuries. Davis was added on July 12 because of an injury to Blake Griffin. Other who had to bow out because of injuries include Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose.
And while the U.S. beat Spain in exhibition, the Spaniards still pose the most likely threat. Spain gave the U.S. team all it could handle in the gold medal game in Beijing and this year’s squad includes Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon and Serge Ibaka.
A major factor for the U.S. will be James, who is fresh from winning his first NBA title with the Miami Heat in June. “I feel great. I’m taking a working vacation,” he said.
Carmelo Anthony, who is competing in his third Olympics, said James is focusing on the Olympics and he hasn’t mentioned the title.
“He hasn’t talked about it, not even once. It’s weird that he hasn’t brought that up,” said Anthony. “And that’ s something that was unexpected.”