Published November 20, 2014
Those predicting that the United States will fall short of a world championship are focusing on the back of the jerseys.
They no longer include names such as BRYANT or JAMES.
Those expecting the Americans to win anyway do so because of what's still on the front.
"I think there is a certain element that does persist that because we have USA on our jersey, that's good enough," USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "And as the world competition has improved, it gets very challenging, especially with a young, inexperienced group of guys, regardless of how much talent we have.
"Personally, I'd rather be hunted like that than the opposite."
But fans and media in Turkey seem to expect a higher level, one reachable by the star-studded Olympic gold medalists of two years ago but maybe not by a young team that hasn't been together nearly as long.
They expect the U.S. not only to win the tournament, but also every game and perhaps even every quarter along the way. Krzyzewski always faces similar expectations at Duke, where he says "people think we should win every game and not let anyone score."
"I don't want that to be what this team feels," he said, allowing he'd be OK with any criticisms if he'd brought back the team from Beijing.
"If we had all the main guys here, you should nitpick anything, because that's the world they live in. They always have to (play well)," Krzyzewski said. "We have a young group. I think our guys have done great and part of it, this is the first experience.
"I think they've been terrific and now they get a chance to do something that will be a momentous thing in their careers if they can, in the next eight days, if they can get it done. I would like for them to be youthfully enthusiastic and try to accomplish something instead of trying to be perfect or whatever. Being perfect is about those other guys."
The Americans blew out their first two opponents, then needed a miss at the buzzer by Brazil's Leandro Barbosa to eke out a 70-68 victory. They closed group play with easy wins over Iran and Tunisia, but neither was a start-to-finish rout. The U.S. led the winless African champions by just four points early in the third quarter.
The U.S. ended up winning 92-57, but center Lamar Odom was pressed about why it took so long to break away from what seemed such an overmatched opponent.
"You can't win by 40 in the first three minutes of a game if you really think about how the game is played," Odom said. "That means you stop them and then you score every time. No mistakes. You're human, you're going to have human errors. You're going to bounce the ball off a leg, three seconds, missed layup, a missed jumper. That's just the way the game goes."
Odom was on the U.S. team that lost three times in the 2004 Olympics before leaving with a bronze medal. The Americans finished sixth two years earlier in Indianapolis in the worlds, so it shouldn't be a surprise that victory isn't guaranteed just by sending five players on the floor wearing red, white and blue. The U.S. hasn't even won a world title since 1994.
Yet that hasn't seemed to way the international basketball community, where many — such as Iran's coach — still call the U.S. a Dream Team. Never mind that the people who assembled it certainly wouldn't.
"People don't understand, that's what sometimes frustrates me," forward Kevin Durant said. "Fans don't understand that this is a hard game to play, especially international basketball. It's a lot different from the NBA game and the players are a lot different.
"Everybody can shoot, from the 4 to the 5, and that right there puts pressure on your defense, because you can't help as much. We're not going to win every game by 30 or 20, or maybe even 10. As long as we go out there and get the job done, at the end of the day, it's all about wins."
The U.S. needs four more to claim the gold medal. Noting that world records in track events aren't usually set during the qualifying rounds, when competitors just want to advance and peak later, Krzyzewski isn't concerned with always looking good along the way.
But the Americans know they will hear about it whenever they don't.
"I think it's a good expectation to have and we have to live up to that," guard Stephen Curry said. "I don't think it puts any extra pressure on us."