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We'll See, Mr. Sheridan

We got a lot of e-mail about
a Chris Sheridan article ripping Coach K
for the first day of practice with
the national squad. "We have to go out there and be
dominant for 56 quarters -- every quarter of every game we play. That's our
mission," Gilbert Arenas said of the Olympic team, adding that Coach K - or
"Coach Mike" - had said this.

Sheridan said "Well, Coach Mike or Coach K, or whatever you want to call
him, is dead wrong, and Insider is not afraid to say so. This isn't 1992
anymore. This isn't about playing like the original Dream Team, for which Coach
K was an assistant under Chuck Daly. And this should not be about restoring
American dominance following three losses at the 2002 World Championship and
three more losses at the 2004 Olympics."

The rest is an Insiders piece, and we don't subscribe, so we can't discuss it
all. But we can discuss what we think Jerry Colangelo and Coach K are

When you look at the past failures, the immediate flaw is cohesiveness,
followed by defense and outside shooting, and then playing against zone
defenses. The first two are largely questions of desire and familiarity,
and the shooting can be remedied by taking some serious shooters who can offset
the unfortunate trend of trading threes for (sometimes anyway) twos. And
zones are managable with some practice.

But let's start with defense.

The major advantage the U.S. has is athleticism, and it hasn't been taken
advantage of. We greatly admire some of the international teams abilities
to move the ball and get open three point shots. It's very pretty to

But when you look at the Aussies, the Spanish, or the Argentineans, or
whoever else you want to look at, they are not nearly as talented.

Talent can be overcome by a superior team concept, but if the more talented
team plays as a team, they'll win.

Just as food for thought: if the Olympics were held today and the Miami Heat
went to represent the U.S., do you think they'd lose a game?

No. No one would come anywhere near them. What about the Chicago
Bulls of yore? Again, no.

But when the team is tossed together and has a month to get ready to play in
a very different sort of game, the results are predictable.

However, if the team has been developed over a period of time and roles are
established, and defensive assignments are understood, it's not going to be an
easy out for anyone.

There are (obviously) some NBA players for other countries. Steve Nash
and Dirk Nowitzki spring to mind. But if they come up against a team with
Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, and LeBron James, among others, playing serious
defense, their opportunities will go down.

In a close game, trading threes for twos when the offense could manage it, as
happened with Larry Brown's team, the end is pre-ordained. But with
serious pressure defense, and pressure coming from the offensive end as well,
the end of the game will be more difficult for opponents, who are going to get
worn down.

The zone defenses have been allowed in the NBA again, which just seems
bizarre to us. The NBA is about scoring and entertainment, and the zone
doesn't promote those values. But it does allow some practical experience,
and assistant coach Jim Boeheim is a master of zones and so can explain how to
attack them.

Finally, the different rules have worked against the U.S. in the past.
But we've seen Duke teams which were so voracious defensively that the opponents
have been destroyed 10 minutes into the game.

In the international game, with the different, loping in-bounds rules where
the clock doesn't stop, it can actually work to the U.S.'s advantage: if you
don't get a break going up the court, but instead have Chris Paul, with Kobe
Bryant and Elton Brand behind him, running suddenly isn't such a great
idea. As a matter of fact, giving the ball up will seem a lot
smarter. And that opens the passing lanes for steals, as the U.S.'s
advantage in athleticism comes into play.

As something of an example, in 1987, Duke took on the Russian national team.

They absolutely destroyed the Soviets.

The principles you've seen on great Duke teams - brutal defense, transition
basketball, three point shooting - they'll be magnified with the higher level of

Finally, it's worth asking: what does Sheridan want? Does he want the U.S. to
kowtow to everyone else? Any team should aspire to dominance, but
particularly a team of great athletes playing effectively as a team, which is
what we expect the U.S. to be.