USA Men’s National Team Heads To Rio With Sights On The Gold
After another convincing exhibition win on Monday night, several members of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team were asked about their biggest priority as they head to Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Is it defense or rebounding or maybe 3-point shooting?
Kevin Durant gave the simplest yet most definitive answer.
“We’ve just got to win,” Durant said. “No matter how well it goes, we just want to win. That’s all we worry about. Everything else will take care of itself. We’ve just got to win.”
USA Basketball Men’s National Team head coach Mike Krzyzewski canceled the team’s final practice on Tuesday so the players could focus on their own individual work on their final day in Houston before departing for Rio on Tuesday night.
“A lot of times, that’s what they need more than practice,” Krzyzewski said. “They need to get back to their individual routines so that they’re ready. And then when we leave, it’s off, hopefully, to a gold medal.”
Still, Durant took the practice court for a shoot-around session immediately following the USA Basketball Women’s National Team practice on Tuesday afternoon. Several other players worked on individual drills, while some utilized the Houston Rockets’ weightlifting facilities.
After cruising through five exhibition games to prepare themselves for the real thing, it’s tough to pinpoint areas that need improvement. Across the five games, the U.S. dominated their opponents by an average margin of victory of 43.0 points. They averaged 102.8 points and allowed just 59.8 points to their opponents, two of which will be in their Group A in the preliminary round in China and Venezuela.
Defensively, the USA’s opponents managed to make just 34.6 percent of their shots against the harassing U.S. defensive effort, including a chilly 26.1 percent from 3-point. Forcing their opponents into 19.6 turnovers a game, the USA also owned a plus 21.4 rebounding margin as well.
“The competition is going to get better,” Krzyzewski said. “I mean, really good. It goes up, and we have to react accordingly.”
With just two players on the 2016 roster who won gold medals at the 2012 Olympics in London, the team has found a natural leader in seasoned veteran Carmelo Anthony. After receiving the bronze medal as a 20-year-old Olympian at the 2004 Games in Athens, Anthony won two gold medals in Beijing and London. Krzyzewski said Anthony’s vocal leadership around practice and in the games has helped the team’s chemistry, tremendously.
“He’s been terrific,” Krzyzewski said. “I thought he would be good, and he’s even better because he’s a smart guy and he gets it. We’re lucky that he’s with us.”
Anthony, who is now the team’s veteran at 32 years old, said on Monday night that the leadership simply comes naturally for him. He knows what it’s like to be a first-time Olympian as well as the triumph and feeling of accomplishment that comes with earning a gold medal. But instead of placing pressure on himself, Anthony has a refreshingly laid-back approach.
“For me, it’s just more about having fun and not putting that scoring burden on my shoulders and knowing that we have what it takes to win,” Anthony said. “We have an opportunity to do something special with a new group of guys. For me to be a part of that again, I’m very excited.”
The young group of players is characterized by sharpshooters and relentless defenders. DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan and Draymond Green provide a menacing presence around the basket, and perimeter defenders like Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving and Paul George make every shot contested and difficult. The U.S. virtually took away Nigeria’s 3-point shot, holding them to just 4-of-29 shooting in their final tune-up game, and that was without George, who Krzyzewski called, “as good a defensive player as anyone else on this planet.”
Heading into their opening round matchup against China on Saturday night, the U.S. is feeling confident and ready.
“We’re right where we want to be, and we’re right where we should be,” Durant said. “We’re looking forward to Rio.”