Team USA Notebook: Players Getting Used to High Expectations
ISTANBUL -- If there's a guy who knows about inflated expectations, it's Mike Krzyzewski.
"I'm accustomed to that,'' said Krzyzewski, who has led Duke to four national titles in the past 20 years, including one last April. "No matter who you put out for Duke, it should be win every game and not let anybody score. Other than that, you'll be all right.''
So the Team USA coach just shrugs when a foreign journalist asks after the team scored 100-plus points in a lopsided win why it didn't score more.
This is new for some of American players at the World Championship. With Team USA undefeated but still hearing plenty of nitpicking, they're learning the expectations that come with wearing red, white and blue in international competition.
"You've got to win every game by 60,'' said forward Kevin Durant, whose Americans face out-manned Angola in a round-of-16 game Monday at the Sinan Erdem Dome. "Fifty is not good enough.''
If that's the case, the Americans must be faltering here. They haven't won a single game by 50, with their biggest win by 37 and their average margin of victory in five games at 24.8.
Guard Chauncey Billups, Team USA's oldest player at 33, knows a bit more about inflated expectations than all the young guys on the team. He played in the 2007 Olympic qualifying tournament in Las Vegas.
"When you have USA on your chest, there's already so much pressure on you because nobody ever expects you to lose,'' Billups said. "Even though we came into the tournament probably not the favorites (some considered defending champion Spain the team to beat), people don't expect us to be close in games because our name is USA. ... You can't worry about the outside world and what people expect.''
Expectations have been high ever since the U.S., where basketball was invented in 1891, beat Estonia 52-28 in its first Olympic game in 1936. The Americans cruised to gold that year and have won 13 of the 16 Olympic basketball competitions in which they have competed.
Hype really began to sore after the Dream Team won Olympic gold by beating foes by an average of 43.8 points in 1992 and Dream Team II won the World Championship in 1994 by outscoring teams by an average of 37.7 points. Never mind Team USA hasn't won a Worlds gold since then, expectations haven't lessened.
The Americans should drub Angola, a team whose only real memory for U.S. fans came when Charles Barkley threw an elbow at a hapless Angola player in 1992. But Krzyzewski insists there will be no overlooking this outfit.
"It's a big game for us,'' Krzyzewski said. "Instead of saying we should win, we need to play really well and get into the mood for this week, that one-and-done mood (of the knockout round).''
If the Americans don't win by a lot Monday, they will face criticism. But winning gold next Sunday is the ultimate goal.
While Krzyzewski might joke about life at Duke, he knows there weren't too many complaints that the Blue Devils only beat Butler by two points in last April's NCAA title game.
A Turkish visitor stopped by a recent Team USA practice to hand assistant Jay Triano a pair of framed photos from back when he had hair.
Triano, Toronto's head coach, played for the Istanbul team Fenerbahce in 1985. He averaged about 10.0 points.
"I was very popular,'' Triano said. "People remember me.''
Yes, they do. Triano said he's had a "bunch of people'' come talk to him during the Worlds about his basketball days 25 years ago in Turkey. One of his opponents from then, Burak Biyiktay, is now coach of another Turkish club team. Biyiktay has invited the Americans to use his practice facility in Istanbul, and he gave the framed photos to Triano.
"He was a very good player, but I already beat him,'' said Biyiktay, pointing to one of the photos in which Biyiktay alleged he drove by Triano for a bucket.
Triano begged to differ about Biyiktay's description of the photo. But he couldn't complain too much about the gifts.
Some wonder why big man Kevin Love is not playing more for Team USA. After all, he's averaging 7.4 points and 6.6 rebounds in just 10.4 minutes while shooting 59.3 percent.
It has been suggested Love is being saved to be unleashed on foes in the knockout round. He doesn't mind that characterization.
"I'm the secret weapon,'' he said.
Love doesn't mind that he is tied with center Tyson Chandler for having played the least minutes on the team. He said Team's USA's three big men -- starting center Lamar Odom, Chander and Love -- all provide different looks and who plays might be tailored to what the Americans need.
"Tyson goes in and block shots and rebounds and gets putbacks and alley-oops,'' Love said. "There's another look for Lamar. He's unorthodox and left-handed. Wherever I fit in, I just want to win the gold medal.''
Like Odom, Love can go inside and out, although Love is the better outside shooter. Though both are 6-foot-10, Love doesn't have the length of Odom. But Love has been a better rebounder in the Worlds than his teammate, averaging 5.2 in 19.6 minutes.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson