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The Duke Plan

 

A new approach to the Olympic basketball dilemma

 

By Adam Hoff

 

A few years ago, after the devastating bronze medal performance by the USA basketball team in the ’04 Olympics, I joked that we should send over a team helmed by Mike Krzyzewski full of former Duke players.  Now, a year and a half later, I’m breaking that idea back out again, except that this time I’m not joking.

Unless you hate basketball or have been living under a rock for the past week, you know that USA Basketball has invited 23 players to participate as part of the national team over the next three years.  There will be tryouts and various teams selected for the World Championships and the Beijing Games.  The search process has been infinitely more extensive than last time and it seems that Jerry Colanegelo has the best intentions.  However, nothing feels right about this new situation.

For starters, there is already controversy surrounding the fact that Allen Iverson, the heart and soul of the ’04 team, was snubbed and did not receive an invite.  In addition, Rashard Lewis and Michael Redd have reportedly declined invitations, already making this selection process – supposedly so “different” – feel vaguely familiar.

Not only that, but the team still doesn’t look quite right.  Luke Ridnour?  Antawn Jamison?  I can understand wanting to bring along role players, but these guys aren’t even very good.  Not only that, but there still aren’t enough shooters in place.  During one ’04 game Doug Collins announced, “The US team is being outscored 27-0 from behind the three-point line.”  I, for one, don’t really want to hear that again.  So where is Mike Miller, Kyle Korver, or even Ray Allen (although he is older than most of the guys on the list)?  

In the end, Team USA is still going to wind up being a collection of high profile players that need the ball, don’t have a lot of experience playing together, and don’t mesh into a unified team.  Simply sprinkling in a stopper like Bruce Bowen (who will by 37 in 2008, by the way, four years older than Allen Iverson or Ray Allen) or a “pure” point guard like Ridnour isn’t going to change anything.  If they really wanted to create a true team than the roster should look a lot different than it does.  How exactly are Kobe, LeBron, Pierce, and Wade all supposed to be able to play their games?  I’m not against putting talented players on the Olympic team, but I’m also not convinced that we’ve taken an entirely new approach to fielding a squad.

Therefore, I’m breaking out the old “Duke All-Stars” suggestion.  Not only is Coach K on the bench for Team USA now (which means this makes even more sense than it did then), but no group of American basketball players has been as consistently good as Duke over the past 20 years.  Plus, Duke teams play a similar game to the international teams.  They spread the court, drive and kick, move the ball from side to side, drill threes, and play great defense.  The Blue Devils (who I despise, just for the record) are the perfect antidote for those sharp shooting Euros and efficient Argentines. 

The best part of building an All-Duke Olympic team is that the players would immediately buy in to what Coach K is doing and they would all be comfortable within his system.  From offensive sets to a pressing defense to the aggressive mentality, these guys have all been there before.  Not only that, but it would be a great way to regain our US swagger.  By telling the world, “We only need to send over players from one college” we would be able to regain some of that air of superiority that has been lost.  Instead of continuing to desperately try to overcome our symmetry disadvantages by overhauling the selection process and holding tryouts and making a huge deal out of our USA Basketball “problem,” we could just casually send over the Dukies and take care of business.

Obviously, you can’t just send the current Duke roster.  No college basketball team is going to beat the type of teams we saw at the Athens Games.  The key to making this work is to draw from the entire talent pool of Duke players, past and present.  What we need to do is round up the best Duke alums in the NBA and put them back under Coach K’s tutelage.  How’s this for a gold medal winner?

Starting Lineup:

G – Chris Duhon.  He isn’t flashy, but he would direct traffic, get the ball to the shooters, and lock down the Jasikeviciuses of the word on the defensive end.  He’s no Billups or Paul, but I’d rather have Duhon running my team than Ridnour.

SG – J.J. Reddick.  I can’t even imagine what Reddick would do behind the international three-point line.  Plus, he’s quite possibly the “most taunted college athlete of the past 20 years” so there is nothing an international crowd could do to rattle him.

SF – Corey Maggette.  He only played one year at Duke, but that shouldn’t be a problem, as Maggette’s role would be to “score often.”  You don’t need to be on board with a team’s system to get excited for that. 

PF – Carlos Boozer.  His stock has dropped dramatically, between stabbing the Cavs in the back and then missing almost a full calendar year with a hamstring injury.  However, Boozer played well in the 2004 Olympics and he is a rebounding machine.  He’s a great fit as a power forward that will do the dirty work.

C – Elton Brand.  He’s playing a little bit out of position, but it shouldn’t a be a problem.  Not only did he man the pivot in the All-Star game this year, but he also won’t be encountering the likes of Shaq in international competition.  The best aspect of the starting lineup is that Brand and Maggette would be the alpha dogs and get all the shots.  Not only is this more like every other team (Spain goes through Gasol at all times, Argentina runs through Ginobili and Scola, etc.), but Brand and Maggette have this dynamic down to perfection, having been teammates in Los Angeles for the past several seasons. 

Bench:

Sixth Man – Shane Battier.  Mr. Does All The Little Things would be the glue of this team.  He can knock down the three, lock guys up, and even run the offense.  He was one of the guys invited to the new USA tryouts, so they obviously see the value in Battier’s game as well.  The difference is that here he would be in his element and would be one of the strong leaders on the team.  The difference is that he will be cut from the actual team and replaced by yet another guy that likes to take 17-foot fadeaways. 

PG – Jay Williams.  What better way for Williams to come back to the game than this?  He is another leader, a smart player, and a good athlete that would be more of a scorer to Duhon’s passing point guard.  If Williams was unable to play, Daniel Ewing would be the guy here.

SG – Trajan Langdon.  If it wasn’t for Reddick, Langdon would have been the starting shooting guard.  At 6’3”, he was too small to play the 2 in the NBA, but he thrives in European leagues.  The Alaskan Assassin shot 51% from three for Euro League champs Benetton Treviso in 02-03 and is now shooting 57% for Dynamo Moscow.  He knows the international game, is feared by many of the players from those teams, and would be in his ultimate comfort zone playing with the Dukies.

SF – Grant Hill.  The veteran leader of the team, Hill’s durability is not the best, but he would be asked to play only 15-20 minutes a game, provide scoring, and run the team down the stretch.  With point guard being one of the soft spots on the roster, Hill would spend some time running the point forward position the way he did in Detroit for so many years.

PF – Christian Laettner.  Before you start laughing too hard, keep in mind a few things.  First, Laettner’s game – or whatever is left of it – would be a good fit for international play.  He can rebound, shoot from the perimeter, and flop with the best of them.  The second thing is that by 2008, when the Olympics roll around, current Duke freshman stud Josh McRoberts would be ready to take this spot on the roster. 

C – Sheldon Williams.  Like Brand, he’s technically not a center, but Williams would be fine.  International basketball is more like NCAA hoops than the NBA, so Williams should be able to hold down the fort off the bench.  The lack of size on this team is probably the biggest weakness, but again, it just isn’t a huge concern in the Olympics.  The toughness, ball pressure, and cohesion will make this a much better defensive team than any collection of centers would. 

Utility – Mike Dunleavy.  The way Dunleavy is playing in Golden State, the 12th Man sounds about right.  However, he is a versatile player, has some “Euro” qualities to his game, and could be another valuable addition to the team. 

 

This team would play Duke basketball: defend like crazy, work together, and shoot the lights out.  Can you imagine an American team with Reddick, Langdon, Battier, and Maggette drilling threes and Brand dominating in the post?  It would be the perfect mix of personnel and the best part is that they would all buy in to the style of play from day one, because they’ve done it before. 

Finally, the assistant coaches could be Coach K protégés like Johnny Dawkins, Tommy Amaker, and Quinn Snyder.  In fact, now that Quinn is out of a job, he could start scouting now to get a jump on the competition.  I’m telling you, this will work. 

It’s time to usher in a new, Blue Devil era of USA Basketball.

 

Adam Hoff is a columnist for the Webby-winning WhatifSports.com.

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