With big-name stars at home, US expects rough road in Europe on road to basketball worlds

LeBron James and his teammates boasted of bringing an "us against the world" mentality to the Olympics two years ago.

It wasn't necessary.

Where they were going, people cheered U.S. players.

That was in China, playing before fans who adored the NBA superstars that led the Americans to the gold medal. The crowds were just as accommodating in 2006 in Japan.

"In Asia, those two summers, the world championships and the Olympics, we were greeted warmly," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "There wasn't any hostility. Outside of the Chinese teams, we were probably the most favored team."

The lesser-known American players who make up the roster for this year's world championships know things will be a lot harder. So the boos might be coming back — and maybe the losses, too.

"It's going to be different," guard Derrick Rose said. "They're calling us the 'B team,' so we know that there's going to be a lot of stuff going on. But we've got to withstand it and go out there and play anyway."

The Americans left Monday for Madrid, a day after beating France 86-55 in their lone home exhibition game. They will play three quality opponents before they arrive in Turkey for the world championships that begin Aug. 28.

Stephen Curry played on the under-19 U.S. team that won a silver medal in Serbia in 2007, making him one of the few on this roster with experience playing in front of "hostile" European crowds.

"They were pretty much 100 percent against us every time we played," he said. "That was a different experience going over there."

The tour wraps up against Greece in Athens, where there was little love for the U.S. players during the 2004 Olympics. Lamar Odom, who has a bronze medal from those games, argues that the venom directed toward the Americans was due to "different times" in the world. Some of the obstacles of playing in Europe remain for his much-younger teammates.

"That's something that we have to be accustomed to. A lot of these guys that are superstars that are used to getting calls, it won't be like that when we get over there," Odom said. "It'll be a good experience. They'll have to grow up really fast."

The Americans will face Lithuania and Spain in Madrid, the latter a rematch of the championship game in Beijing. None of the gold medalists is playing this summer, which will hurt the U.S. team as much in the stands as on the court.

Kobe Bryant is the league's most popular player around the world, with players such as James, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard not far behind. Even in a road game, they would have heard some cheers.

"Remember the '92 Dream Team, they were treated pretty well in Spain. I think Kobe and LeBron and Dwyane Wade, those guys, they get treated pretty well wherever they go," said assistant Mike D'Antoni, who's skipping the trip to rest an ailing back before the NBA season. "Now you send some guys without that status, although they're very good players, might be a little bit more hostile."

USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo agreed to the beefed-up exhibition schedule without regard to whether he'd have his superstars.

"When the possibility of games came up, in the past we might have said we'd rather not play against one team or another team until tournament time," he said. "This time around, I said let's play, let's play them, because all it can do is help us get ready."

Though Pau Gasol is resting this summer, Spain returns many other players from its 2006 world championship team. Greece, which beat the Americans in the semifinals of that tournament, also is a veteran group.

That raises the possibility the Americans could have at least one loss by the time they reach Istanbul. Along the way, they'll be learning about more than foreign players.

"The people officiating the game can sometimes get nervous, get into what the crowd is doing because they're human beings," Krzyzewski said. "How do you adjust to that?"

Krzyzewski always plays a difficult nonconference schedule at Duke. He thinks the tour would have benefited the Americans no matter who was suiting up, but particularly with the roster in place.

"You need to find even more things with a younger group," he said. "That doesn't mean you find out negative. You could find out 'Holy mackerel, these guys love it.' I'm really looking for that."