Chicago Trip Is Homecoming For Many On Men's National Team
• VIDEO: Anthony Davis Dunk
• VIDEO: Best of Day 2
The goal for USA Basketball is to bring home a gold medal from the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain when that tournament gets underway Aug. 30.
However, the first step is coming together as a team and carving out an identity for itself. That process will begin Saturday night when USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team meets an experienced and talented team from Brazil in an exhibition game at the United Center in Chicago.
It’s fitting that USA Basketball opens its exhibition schedule in the Windy City, because so many of the players and coaches have Chicago affiliations.
All-Star guard Derrick Rose plays with the Chicago Bulls and was born and raised in the city. Kyle Korver is a former Bull. USA assistant coach Tom Thibodeau is the front man for the Bulls, while Krzyzewski grew up in Chicago. Big man Anthony Davis is a Chicago native, while managing director Jerry Colangelo also hails from the city.
“I have a feeling this is going to be a very emotional night for this team,” said Colangelo. “The Chicago connections are so strong for this team and the people here appreciate basketball. I think our players are going to want to put on a good show for them. For the players and coaches with Chicago connections it’s going to be something special.”
Krzyzewski has spoken often of his Chicago background. “I grew up about a mile-and-a-half from the United Center, so it means something special to me. Chicago is a great sports town and an amazing basketball town. We want to give the people that come out a team that they can be proud of. I think it means a lot to everyone here.
Normally, a game in Chicago doesn’t bring out much sentimentality in Thibodeau, because he is simply too caught up in outworking and outcompeting the opposition. While his demeanor in practice has been typically intense, he appreciates the chance to work with some of the best basketball players in the world and do it for his country in front of his home fans.
“This is a great situation to be in,” Thibodeau said. “We have a chance to compete on the international stage and the players are committed to doing their best and winning. When you are a coach, that’s all you can ask for.
“To be playing for your country makes it even better and then you get a chance to play in Chicago. Yes, of course, it means a lot.”
Rose, who is competing on the world stage as he comes back from a second knee surgery, is primed to compete in his hometown. He has also been seeing a part of Thibodeau’s personality that he normally doesn’t see.
“It's kind of cool hanging with Thibs,” Rose said. “I'm seeing another side to him. We are talking about other things in life besides basketball.”
Korver was traded by the Bulls to Atlanta following the 2011-12 season, but Thibodeau’s coaching style remains ingrained in his memory. Korver enjoyed competing in Chicago and he is looking forward to playing at the United Center again.
Davis was a part of the U.S. Olympic team that won the gold medal in London 2012. He figures to have a much bigger role on this international team than he did then, and he appreciates the faith the coaches have in him.
“It means they believe in me and that means a lot,” Davis said. “I want to do whatever I can to help this team win, and whatever I am asked to do, I’m going to be ready. That’s something all by itself, but to have a chance to play on this team in Chicago. It’s huge. It’s really something."
Colangelo believes Davis will play a key role for USA Basketball and this tournament could springboard to greatness in the NBA. “I think this is going to be pivotal for him,” Colangelo said. “He’s going to do a lot for this team, and I think that could have a positive impact for the rest of his career.”
The USA National Team will be looking to prove itself as it opens competition in Chicago, and the hometown factor should provide this team with all the impetus it needs to make a great first impression.