It’s been 16 years since the the U.S. won the FIBA World Championship—an unprecedented amount of time for a country that has always been considered the world’s premier breeding ground for basketball talent. It lost in 1998—a lockout year for the NBA—with a squad made up of college players; it lost on its home turf in 2002 in Indianapolis; it lost in 2006 with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade due in part to defensive lapses.
Now, head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who helped make the Redeem Team possible, will be counted on again to restore Team USA to its position atop the international basketball world. And he’s forced to do it without a single player from the 2008 Olympics, nor Rajon Rondo, who went home after struggling in the team’s exhibitions.
His squad is certainly off to a good start, despite its B-team status, winning all four of its exhibition games, including a thrashing of Greece, 87-59 Wednesday night in Athens. Kevin Durant tallied 15 points and seven boards in the contest, while Derrick Rose was named player of the game after going 6-of-7 from the field and scoring 13.
“We went out with a bang,” Rose said. “We played well. At halftime, we just tried to come out, play aggressive and not let them back in.... That’s something we’ve been working on and it’s coming along.”
While the Americans were not challenged in Greece, they don’t expect an easy path in the World Championship. They may play Spain again, which they barely beat in its exhibition last Sunday, and which features Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio and Rudy Fernandez. And they may have to play Argentina—which is always a threatening squad and boasts NBA veterans Luis Scola and Fabricio Oberto.
Krzyzewski reflected to the media while in Athens on where a FIBA win would rank among his accomplishments, which now include four national championships at Duke and an Olympic gold medal.
“I would think anytime you have a chance to win a championship with your country’s team, it’s the ultimate honor,” he said. “You can’t separate one from the other. We’ve won some championships in college, but they can’t compare to the Olympic gold medal. The World Championship, if we were fortunate to win it, that would be an amazing thing also.”
Team USA has a chance to help Krzyzewski find out how it feels to win on yet another platform. After traveling back to Instanbul, Turkey, the U.S. will play Croatia—a team it has never faced in World Championship play—Saturday. Then, Sunday, Krzyzewski and company face Slovenia, which fell to the U.S. 114-95 in 2006.