While members of the Redeem Team are enjoying what's left of their offseason -- getting accustomed to their new home (LeBron James and Chris Bosh) or trying to find a new one before the 2010-11 season tips off (Carmelo Anthony) -- their replacements at the FIBA World Championships have arrived in Madrid, Spain, in search of an identity, among other things.
As unofficial Team USA correspondent Chris Sheridan reported, it took refueling stops in Newfoundland and Iceland to get the national team's charter from Newark, N.J., to Madrid on Monday. So for now, you can call them Team No-Doz. Once the difficult competition begins -- with exhibitions against Lithuania, Spain and Greece -- you can call them what they are: The U.S. men's national team has gone from being the Redeem Team at the Beijing Olympics to the Reserve Team at the World Championships in Turkey.
|Stephen Curry still has to convince Coach K that he is worthy of a roster spot. (Getty Images)|
"They still call me the rookie around here," said Curry, the only member of the 2009 draft class who spanned the globe Monday on the Reserve Team's charter.
With No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin of the Clippers sitting out this summer of international competition to ensure he's fully recovered from a knee injury in time for training camp, Curry is the low man on Team USA's totem pole. The only problem is, he doesn't look at it that way. He can't afford to, if he hopes to be one of the final 12 selected to make a run at the Americans' first world championship since 1994. During training camps in Las Vegas and New York, Curry was just as likely to be found shooting extra 3-pointers after practice as carrying one of his more seasoned teammate's gear to the team bus.
On Wednesday, Curry found out just how tenuous his pursuit of the final roster spot is when he sprained his ankle during a scrimmage in Madrid. The injury was described as not too serious, but it's possible Curry could miss some practice time heading into Team USA's next exhibition game Saturday against Lithuania.
"I guess I've proved the least compared to everybody else's careers up to this point," Curry said. "So it means a lot to me to still be here, but I don't want to just leave it at that. I want to be on the final roster and represent my draft class and my team very well. Being the youngest guy doesn't really mean anything after that, once we get over there to Turkey."
If nothing else, Team USA has been forced to go cold turkey when it comes to the superstar power that fueled the Americans' dominant gold-medal performance in Beijing. The elaborate World Basketball Festival produced by Nike last week in New York was devised with the belief that the '08 Olympians would take Jerry Colangelo up on the two-year commitment he asked of them -- the 2010 worlds and 2012 Olympics in London. When all the stars backed out, it was time for Plan B: a deep but youthful team with limited international experience (Billups and Odom being the only FIBA veterans), a blossoming star in Durant, and reliance on athleticism, a ragged pace and the zone-defense brilliance of assistant coach Jim Boeheim. A team playing that style never can have enough shooters, which is why the baby face of the squad, Curry, has a realistic shot of seeing his name on the final roster -- his ankle injury notwithstanding.
"When you look at the guards on this roster right now, I think I can stand out by the way I can shoot the ball," Curry said. "Defensively, a lot really wasn't expected out of me early, but I think I've shown that I can play defense and really help the team in that regard as well as guard rebounding, which we're going to have to do to be successful."
Curry's best shot at sticking around appears to be proving to coach Mike Krzyzewski that he's the best fit as Derrick Rose's backcourt mate when Team USA goes to its second unit. Coach K will be able to find plenty of uses for a reliable catch-and-shooter like Eric Gordon, and he's intrigued by the size and scoring Danny Granger provides. So if it comes down to whether to pair Curry or Russell Westbrook with Rose when Coach K turns to his energy unit, it would seem to me that Curry is the better fit.
Rose and Westbrook both excel off the dribble, while Curry can drive-and-kick, drive-and-shoot, or play off Rose's penetration to give him a viable 3-point option when the defense collapses. Despite his 6-foot-3, 185-pound (soaking wet) frame, Curry's on-ball defense can create a fair amount of havoc -- and Team USA is going to need all the transition baskets it can get with so little size to rely on in half-court sets. If Coach K sticks with the starting five that debuted Sunday against France at Madison Square Garden, a second unit of Rose, Curry, Odom, Rudy Gay and either Granger or Kevin Love (one of the best outlet passers in the NBA) would push the tempo to a fairly frenetic pace.
"I'm not sure how many international teams are going to sub and rotate their lineup, but I'm pretty sure you're going to face a team that played against our first squad and be a little fatigued and we can jump on them," Curry said. "Me being able to spread the floor and shoot the three, Derrick Rose being a speedster and getting into the gaps, and then you've got the athleticism and veteran leadership of Lamar, that's a pretty good lineup."
With the Redeem Teamers sitting this one out, pretty good is about all Team USA can realistically hope for this summer. And that only makes Krzyzewski's choice for the final reserve on the Reserve Team even more important.
"Nothing can beat this experience of being around these guys and learning as we go through this," Curry said. "No matter how much I play, how well I play in Spain, whether I make the team or I don't, either way I'm still going to benefit a lot from this whole journey."