With Team USA, Krzyzewski Tries to Turn Green Into Gold
ISTANBUL -- It's not the Dream Team. It's not the Redeem Team. It's the Green Team.
Well, at least it's not the Teen Team. All of the American players at the World Championship are at least 21, and you can check their IDs.
Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski stressed Saturday this very young team shouldn't be compared to any of the much more experienced -- and much more star-studded outfits -- to have represented the country in recent major international competitions. But that doesn't mean they can't bring home a gold medal.
Krzyzewski wants the Americans to be themselves in their attempt to do it. He wants them to retain their youthful exuberance.
"If we had all the main guys here, you should nitpick anything because that's the world they live in,'' said Krzyzewski about if the Americans had the very top players, including many who won gold in the 2008 Olympics. "They always have to put on a great (performance). We have a young group. I think our guys have done great, and part of it is this is the first experience.
"We still have five guys who are 21 years old, and I think they've been terrific. And now they get a chance to do something that will be a momentous thing for them in their careers in the next eight days, if they can get it done (by winning the Sept. 12 gold-medal game). I would like them to be youthfully enthusiastic in trying to accomplish something.''
With the Americans preparing for Monday's round-of-16 game against Angola, Kryzewski wants to his players to starting talking more. It sounds as if he wouldn't mind if they chattered like Little Leaguers.
"One of our primary points of emphasis (Saturday was) to get the guys talking to one another again,'' said Krzyzewski, who also said the minor groin strain forward Rudy Gay suffered Thursday against Tunisia is fine, and he practiced Saturday. "In the last two ballgames (routs over Iran and Tunisia), you knew you were going to win and you really want to fast forward into the medal round. And what happens is you stop talking to one another out on the court, and you're not as animated.''
Krzyzewski figures it will take some pressure off in the knockout round if his young players just be themselves. So perhaps the coach will look the other way if there are a few pranks pulled on the team bus.
"The last two or three games, our youth has shown almost in a bad way,'' said forward Kevin Love, 21, whose Americans still won Group B with a 5-0 record. "We were just quiet. We should be the loudest team. What's our average age, 23 (actually 24.66, with Chauncey Billups, 33, and Lamar Odom, 30, skewing the numbers)? ... So I just feel like we should be up there cheering for each other and be loud in the locker room, loud out there on the court, on the bench. Whatever it is, we should be a loud group.
"Even if it's off the court, as well. The way that we have when you're around each other off the court, we're messing around, we're loud. We just need to take that to a serious note on the court, still be loud and talk... Having that youthful enthusiasm down the stretch is going to help us.''
It's been a lot about lessons for this very young team that was put together after all the 2008 Olympians dropped out and after two experienced big men were lost on the first day of practice. Amar'e Stoudemire, 27, was shelved due to insurance reasons and David Lee, 27, with a finger injury.
After the Americans barely beat Brazil 70-68 last Monday, the wise Billups talked about how a close game like that could help the young players.
Meanwhile, Krzyzewski apparently doesn't want to do anything rash to perhaps disrupt his fragile, young team. He mentioned after the lackluster 92-57 win over woeful Tunisia on Thursday it wasn't out of the question he could change the starting lineup. Krzyzewski, though, said Saturday he'll stick with the same starters although he will be substituting differently in the knockout round, bringing in players two or so at a time rather than throwing in a new group of five.
One big thing Krzyzewski wants his youthful team do better is playing through mistakes. The last thing he wants to see is players hanging their heads when one loss would end any chance of Team USA mining a Worlds gold for the first time since 1994.
"Being perfect is about those other guys,'' Krzyzewski said in another reference to more experience and more star-studded previous American teams. "Wanting to win, being enthusiastic, loose balls, getting out in passing lanes. That's what we have to be. It's a different American team.
"This team will make mistakes. This team will look bad for a little bit, but (will be OK) if overall we don't let that become what we think about. If we make a mistake, let's get on to the next thing. If you miss a shot, don't punish yourself. I think sometimes these guys are very hard on themselves.''
The team's star, forward Kevin Durant, is one of the five guys not yet 22. He said Krzyzewski has been stressing for the players to have that youthful enthusiasm but doesn't believe it will be a problem.
"Yeah, he does (emphasize it),'' said Durant, averaging a team-best 17.8 points. "We bring it, though. Practice is always intense for us, but we always have fun. We want to win so bad. Everybody knows that. But that energy is always going to be there for us. We're young and we're very enthusiastic.''
If that is indeed the case in the knockout round, Krzyzewski believes one doesn't have to be that old to win gold.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson