US team could get tough test from France in opener
As the world watched the queen, David Beckham and what seemed like all of England take part in the Olympic opening ceremonies, Mike Krzyzewski stayed in.
Back at the U.S. team's hotel, Krzyzewski and his assistants studied tape of France.
Krzyzewski isn't taking any chances.
''To not prepare would be the ultimate sign of disrespect,'' Krzyzewski said, ''and the biggest, poorest assumption that you could make.''
It's gold time for the Americans, who open the 12-nation tournament Sunday against France, a squad led by San Antonio guard Tony Parker and featuring five other NBA players. The French are one of several teams that believe they have a legitimate chance of shocking the star-studded Americans.
''It's a big test for us,'' U.S. forward Carmelo Anthony said, lacing up his sneakers Saturday before practice at East London University. ''We're going up against guys that we normally play on a night-to-night basis, and those countries have put them all together just like we have. And at the end of the day their main goal is to beat the United States.
''There's going to be some good battles.''
France will only be the first. This isn't going to be some easy sightseeing stroll along the Thames for the American team before stepping onto the gold-medal stand. Spain, Argentina and Brazil are all talented enough to not only compete with the U.S., but potentially upset the world's No. 1 team.
That wasn't the case four years ago, when the U.S. steamrolled through the field, winning by at least 20 points in each of its first seven games before beating Spain 118-107 in the final. Krzyzewski, who guided the 2008 ''Redeem Team'' to gold, believes a potential road to gold could have some dangerous bumps.
''The overall 12 teams are more talented, more seasoned,'' he said. ''Spain is just in the prime of their - 28, 29 (years of age). Brazil is in that wheelhouse. I think Russia's really, really good. Obviously Argentina, everyone says they're older but their heart and talent has not gotten older, It's just gotten better.
''There's just more teams that feel that they have a chance to win the gold medal - and medal - than they did in '08.''
Count the French among them.
They finished second to Spain at last year's European Championships, and maintain they won't be intimidated by the U.S. team's collection of All-Stars, MVPs and household names. France's players have no intention of being posterized on a dunk by LeBron James or Kobe Bryant the way 7-foot-2 countryman Frederic Weis was famously embarrassed by a soaring Vince Carter in the 2000 Sydney Games.
France, 0-4 against the U.S. in Olympic competition, isn't frightened.
''For us there is no fear factor because we play against them all the time,'' said Parker, who will wear goggles to protect his surgically repaired left eye. ''We know they are really, really good. But it's not going to be like the other teams where they don't see them and it's like, 'Oh, wow, I'm playing against Kobe and LeBron.'''
Bryant likened France's offense to the one Parker runs with the Spurs. Everything starts with the ball in Parker's hands, so the U.S. team's challenge will be to make him give it up.
''Slow him down and surround him,'' Bryant said. ''Keep bodies in front of him at all times.''
Turiaf, who recently won an NBA title with James in Miami, said France's familiarity with the U.S. players will help - to a point.
''If you look at the NBA game everyone knows each and every one of those players tendencies,'' he said. ''Can they stop them? No. What you try to do is just give yourself the best chance in order to have some sort of success. I think all you can do is put yourself in position to disturb them as much as possible.''
This U.S. team, comprised of five holdovers from the '08 squad, five from the 2010 world championship team and two newcomers, was loose and relaxed before Saturday's workout, a final tune-up before beginning the five-game preliminary round. Durant and Anthony playfully horsed around in the foul lane and Bryant smiled amusingly as photographers jockeyed for position like paparazzi trying to record his every move.
The mood will be decidedly different Sunday.
That's when everything change. That's when it matters.
''Everybody expects us to win gold,'' James said. ''And that's what we're here for. Nothing else.''
In recent days, Bryant, James and the other U.S. players have been careful not to get trapped into making comparisons to the Dream Team. Bryant recently caused a stir by saying the 2012 Olympians could beat the 1992 version that included Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
Jordan called Bryant's comments ''not one of the smarter things he ever could have done.''
For now, the talk has quieted, the comparisons can wait. For this American team to be regarded among the others before them, there can only be one medal.
''The legacy will be determined if you win the gold or you don't,'' Krzyzewski said. ''We're not talking about legacy everyday but it is. We're here to win a gold medal, and if we do less than that, then it will be a big loss for us.''