Posted: Thursday April 12, 2012 11:49AM ; Updated: Thursday April 12, 2012 2:00PM
Ian Thomsen
Ian Thomsen>INSIDE THE NBA

USA Basketball returns to elite form under chairman Colangelo

Story Highlights

The 2012 U.S. Olympic team will draw comparisons to the 1992 Dream Team

Jerry Colangelo has transformed the program since taking over in 2005

USA basketball has returned to elite status, looks to defend '08 gold medal

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Dwyane Wade helped Team USA take the gold medal in Beijing in 2008.
Dwyane Wade helped Team USA take the gold medal in Beijing in 2008.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Can the U.S. Olympic basketball team of this summer be superior to the original Dream Team of 1992? Jerry Colangelo appreciates the comparisons, even if they're impossible to resolve.

"We're talking about different eras," said Colangelo, the chairman of USA Basketball. "It's unfair because our guys today are young. Their careers are yet to unfold. You can only make that comparison later when our guys are pretty much done playing."

Apart from Kobe Bryant, the biggest stars -- including LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade -- have, amazingly, yet to reach their peak in the NBA. "All of those guys have a lot of years ahead of them," Colangelo said. "In addition, the world competition is much more sophisticated today. There was little competition 20 years ago for the USA team because the world basketball community hadn't quite arrived.

"It's so difficult to compare two great teams because the individual players are in different states of their careers, and there is a lot more competition today than there was then. If you're talking about this group and what they'll be in their prime, we don't know that yet. But it's kind of a fun exercise to get involved in, and for our guys to be mentioned in the same breath as that team is quite an honor."

It says everything about the transformation of USA Basketball since Colangelo took over in 2005, following finishes of sixth place at the 2002 World Championships at Indianapolis and third at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Colangelo, 72, has achieved enormous success as a sports executive -- he essentially founded and developed the Phoenix Suns, he owned the Arizona Diamondbacks when they won the 2001 World Series, and he is chairman of the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. But he considers his role in the rejuvenation of USA Basketball to be his greatest achievement.

"You're out there in the world representing your country," said Colangelo. "I took that very personally and I still do."

The commitment and depth that Colangelo was seeking to develop enabled USA Basketball to win gold medals with two entirely different rosters at the 2008 Olympics and 2010 Worlds. The wealth of talent is also going to force Colangelo, coach Mike Krzyzewski and their staff to make difficult cuts in order to fill out a 12-man roster.

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"It will be a blend -- it might be 50-50 or 60-40 regarding this roster," Colangelo said. "Our staff is going to meet May 1 for a couple of days to go over all of the details in terms of our schedule and our plans. The unusual circumstance is that we are going to have to select our team before we go to camp, and that's because of the dates that are required by the Olympic committee. We may go ahead and select our 12-man roster around June 1, that's what I'm thinking. And we will have some alternates.

"We will also have to select players we want to invite for our 'select' team," said Colangelo of the USA team that will challenge the Olympic team in practices and scrimmages. "Those players will then represent us in the Worlds in 2014 in Spain. That's how this thing works."

The success of Krzyzewski demonstrates how the different worlds of basketball -- college, international and NBA -- are melding. Before Colangelo brought in Krzyzewski, it was widely believed that a college coach could not oversee NBA players. It helps that Krzyzewski holds more authority over his players on the USA teams than most NBA coaches hold over their teams.

"There's no agenda," said Colangelo of Krzyzewski's approach, apart from the obvious goal of winning a gold medal for the country. "And the players themselves are different under these circumstances than they are with own teams in the NBA. It's a different environment."

In this environment some very good players are going to face being cut from the team. Some of those decisions will be made for Colangelo and Krzyzewski based on injuries and how well players are performing throughout the playoffs.

"Let me give you an example: Lamar Odom was one of our 20 players that we announced originally," said Colangelo, in reference to Odom's recent eviction from the Dallas Mavericks. "I feel bad for Lamar. He seems troubled in terms of what's happened of late, and this whole year has been kind of a lost year for him. So things happen.

"When we have our meetings May 1 and we talk once more about what makeup do we want on this team, I'm sure we'll look at what we think our competition will be like. Will we want to carry three centers? Or will we carry an extra athlete? A lot of it will depend on how we decide to play.

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"The last go-round, coach basically played eight guys. The difference this time is we're going to be so deep -- and he and I talked about this -- it's going to be a different situation regarding how he plays them. You'll be able to go 12-deep if he chooses to."

This team will be pursuing the gold medal with a different attitude, and that approach also will influence the selections. "In '08 we were climbing back up the hill, trying to get back something that we lost, being the No. 1 country in the world," Colangelo said. "And we did achieve that. Now it's a matter of defending the hill. So Coach K and I have talked a lot about that in terms of our approach. It's going to be a little different in what is said and how we conduct our meetings and what the messages are going to be. So that in itself is going to be challenging."

They'll be looking for players who have the toughness and resilience to fend off challenges when the tournament reaches the precarious one-and-done stage of the latter rounds leading to the gold medal game Aug. 12.

"It's always about the talent," Colangelo said, "but it's also about the mindset. When we gather July 5, literally there is going to be just one focus through Aug. 12. And yes, we'll be in Las Vegas, Washington, Manchester, Barcelona and then London. But that whole focus is on Aug. 12. And so that's our job is to do everything we can to make sure that we as a group, as a team, don't lose that focus. I feel confident that we'll be up for that task."

 
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