U.S. Readies for Basketball World Championships

The basketball world championship takes place in Japan next month. A team led by young NBA superstars Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony will try to put the U.S. back at the top of the world's basketball heap.

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DON GONYEA, host:

Young NBA superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony will lead the U.S. Men's National Team in next month's Basketball World Championships in Japan.

The team yesterday announced its 15-man traveling roster. Despite the presence of these big names, the U.S. squad also includes some lesser-known players. It's part of an effort by USA Basketball to create a cohesive, less ego-driven team that can lead the U.S. back to the top in international basketball.

Joining us now is NPR's Tom Goldman. Good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

Good morning, Don.

GONYEA: So, Tom, some quick background. The U.S. finished in sixth place at the 2002 World Championships. And Team USA took the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics. What is this team trying to do differently to win?

GOLDMAN: Well, before I answer that, I'll add a little more background. Basketball was invented in the United States, and of the 16 men's Olympic basketball competitions, the U.S. has won 12. So indeed, there was a lot of disappointment in these results you mentioned.

The teams that struggled in 2002 and 2004 essentially were NBA all-star teams slapped together at the last minute; not a lot of practice time, and they lacked chemistry and a commitment to team offense and defense and passing, which are hallmarks of the international game.

This team is taking its national team involvement seriously. Players are required to make at least a three-year commitment to be part of the national team. So this group, at least through the 2008 Beijing Olympics. And that means no summers off after long NBA seasons for these guys.

And officials invited players they believed would mesh nicely and who were versatile and had good attitudes. Teamwork, team chemistry, these are concepts being stressed here.

GONYEA: So tell us about this team. Some of these names we know well, some of these guys, the casual fan perhaps has never heard of.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, the stars we've heard of, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, but the roster also includes so-called role players, non stars who play specific important roles on their NBA teams. Guys like Bruce Bowen, a defensive specialist for the San Antonio Spurs. Brad Miller, a center from Sacramento, and Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets. All together there are 25 players who've signed on. They'll be used over the next three years in training and competition.

Now, players who didn't make this World Championship roster - the 15 that you mention and that'll be cut down to 12 - they still could play at the Olympics in 2008. The national team coach, Mike Krzyzewski, he's doing everything he can to prevent a star system, if you will. He says there'll be no set starting lineup for the world championships in Japan. He can see all 12 players on the final World Championship roster playing in each game, even.

GONYEA: So Krzyzewski is that iconic, successful, college basketball coach. Can a guy like Krzyzewski coach these big NBA players?

GOLDMAN: We shall see. He has a tremendous track record and garners tons of respect. And several of the young players we've talked about are young enough to be in college right now. They just jumped to the NBA early. So Coach Krzyzewski knows how to handle young men. He's on a mission, and the guys he's selected share that mission.

After one week of training camp in Las Vegas, a lot of them were simply gushing about team play, about the importance of playing for their country, all the things Krzyzewski wants to hear.

GONYEA: Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Don.

GONYEA: NPR Sports Correspondent Tom Goldman.

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