- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2008

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SCHEDULE

Aug. 8-24

OVERVIEW

Where: Wukesong Indoor Stadium

Outlook: The United States domination in basketball faded in the 2002 world championships and the 2004 Olympics. The using-the-NBA-players concept began in 1992 with Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird rolling to a gold medal. By the time Team USA reached Athens, they weren’t the favorite, they didn’t have the best NBA players on their roster and chaos followed. The U.S. team settled for bronze and lost three games. It had lost two games in the previous 14 Olympics. A makeover was needed. Jerry Colangelo was put in charge, and he hired Mike Krzyzewski as coach. The duo asked for three-year commitments from their players. Most — chiefly Kobe Bryant — bought in. The starting lineup of Bryant, Jason Kidd, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwight Howard is unmatched. But the world continues to catch up. The competition has four teams that have beaten Team USA in the last four years — Puerto Rico, Greece, Argentina and Lithuania. And who knows how big a boost the Chinese will get from playing at home?

MEN’S BASKETBALL

Coach Krzyzewski: “There’s only one Dream Team. That was ‘92. The mistake that our American people make is calling every team after a ‘Dream Team.’ This isn’t Rocky I, II, III and IV. It’s Dream Team I forever — and then the next teams have to get their own identity. This team will work at developing its identity.”

Last three major international tournaments: two bronze medals.

In 1992, the U.S. team beat Lithuania by 51 points in semifinal.

In 2004, the U.S. team lost three games on way to bronze; they had lost two games in previous 14 Olympics.

Dwyane Wade: “It is redemption. That’s what it is: a road to redemption.”

Wade one of three holdovers from 2004 team (Anthony, James)

Contenders: Puerto Rico, Greece, Argentina, Lithuania. All have defeated U.S. in the last four years.

Colangelo: “The U.S. model — showing up — was broke.” In 2006, lost to Greece in semifinals of worlds. That loss told the U.S. it needed 1. Shooters (32 percent 3-pointers in that game), 2. To defend the pick-and-roll, a staple of the international game — Greece shot 63 percent from the field, which led to taller, more physical guards to work their way through the screens. 3. Maturity.

Age of team: 23.6 years on average in 2004, the youngest of five Olympic teams with NBA players. This year it’s 26.1 years, led by 35-year-old Kidd, the only gold medalist on the team.

Lack of size could factor: Tallest player is 6-11 Dwight Howard.

TEAMS TO WATCH

ARGENTINA

The defending gold medalist beat the United States 89-81 in Athens. Missing a number of key players last year, Argentina finished second in the FIBA Americas Championship, losing the final game to the Team USA by 37 points. Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs), Andres Nocioni (Chicago Bulls) and Luis Scola (Houston Rockets) will lead the team.

SPAIN

The Spaniards have never beaten the Americans in the Olympics (0-8), but some project a gold medal match between the USA and Spain. It rolled in Athens until losing to the United States in quarterfinal play and finishing out of the medals. The key players are Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers) and Jose Calderon (Toronto Raptors).

CHINA

The Americans’ first opponent, China automatically qualified for the Olympics since it is the host nation. China finished eighth in the last two Olympic games and hasn’t come close to beating the U.S. team. But it has size — something the Team USA doesn’t have. Yao Ming (7-6) and Yi Jianlian (7-0) lead the way.

TEAM USA ROSTER

4 Carlos Boozer (Utah Jazz) Played for Coach K at Duke. On a team with only a couple of bruisers, he’ll have to be physical inside.

5 Jason Kidd (Dallas Mavericks) Made the starting point guard and veteran leader early in the process. Only player on team with gold medal.

6 LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers) Appearing in his second Olympics, expect him to be more effective as a 23-year-old than he was as a 19-year-old.

7 Deron Williams (Utah Jazz) On a team full of point guards, will be a part of the coaching staff’s toughest decision: Who spells Kidd first — Williams or Chris Paul?

8 Michael Redd (Milwaukee Bucks) A lack of outside shooting doomed the 2004 team. Enter Redd and his 911 career 3-pointers.

9 Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat) He has proved healthy after an injury-marred NBA season, he’ll be efficient regardless of whom his backcourt partner is.

10 Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) Appearing in his first Olympics, the 2008 NBA MVP will defend the opponent’s best guard. He was stellar in last year’s qualifying tournament.

11 Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic) The tallest player on the U.S. roster (6-11), he starts the Olympics with his toughest assignment — defending Yao Ming.

12 Chris Bosh (Toronto Raptors) At 6-10, he’s the other American big man. He has averaged 18.9 points and 9.0 rebounds in five seasons with Toronto.

13 Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets) Expect the NBA’s 2007-08 assists leader to get the first call in relief of Kidd. He was sensational in the playoffs (24.1 points, 11.3 assists).

14 Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons) Seen by the coaching staff as a player who might not get a lot of minutes but will provide instant energy and an all-around game.

15 Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets) One of the holdovers from 2004, the Baltimore native has been installed as a starter up front alongside James and Howard.

REGROUPING EFFORT

After falling short of the gold medal at the 2002 Worlds and 2004 Olympics, USA Basketball has reorganized its process. A look at how they’ve fared in the four Olympics with NBA players and the last two worlds:

Event (Record, Margin of victory)

1992 Olympics: 8-0, 43.6

1996 Olympics: 8-0, 31.8

2000 Olympics: 8-0, 21.6

2002 World Championships: 6-3, 28.0

2004 Olympics: 5-3, 13.6

2006 World Championships: 8-1, 22.5

WOMEN

Funny how the perception of USA Basketball changed after the Athens Games. The men’s team lost three games and settled for the bronze medal. The system was overhauled and new people were put in charge.

But it was business as usual for the women’s team. Team USA won its third consecutive gold, going 8-0 and winning those games by an average of nearly 24 points. Six players from that team return for the Beijing Games and a seventh — DeLisha Milton-Jones — played on the 2000 team.

There are plenty of new faces on this year’s team, however. New coach: Anne Donovan. New players: Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker. New belief: The USA will face challenges — it settled for bronze at the world championships two years ago.

Donovan and the rest of the team hope the return of Lisa Leslie (she missed the worlds) and the addition of the superstar Olympic newcomers will equal gold. Team USA enters with a 25-game Olympic winning streak, dating to the 1992 semis.

The 12-person team didn’t convene until late July and have a short period of time to create chemistry before opening Olympic play Monday against host China (10:15 a.m. in the District).

“Our biggest challenge is how quickly we can come together,” Donovan said. “Being able to put all the pieces together in a short period of time and getting our chemistry set and our defensive trust — it will be very important.”

Australia and Russia are the top competition, and they’re not in the Americans’ pool. Team USA will face China, Mali, New Zealand, Spain and the Czech Republic in preliminary play. Leslie is trying for a fourth gold. Teresa Edwards won four Olympic golds sandwiched around a bronze in 1992.

Donovan is confident Taurasi and Parker will fit seamlessly with the Olympic veterans.

“We have a great combination of veteran players and young players that will blend together to try and get it done,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy. We’ll face tremendous competition.”

WOMEN’S ROSTER

4Cappie Pondexter (Phoenix Mercury)

5Seimone Augustus (Minnesota Lynx)

6Sue Bird (Seattle Storm)

7Kara Lawson (Sacramento Monarchs)

8DeLisha Milton-Jones (Los Angeles Sparks)

9Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles Sparks)

10Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever)

11Tina Thompson (Houston Comets)

12Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)

13Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky)

14Katie Smith (Detroit Shock)

15Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks)

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