This past Monday, on the second day of practice for USA Basketball's men's team, coach Larry Brown spelled out the lesson for his team after a particularly sloppy sequence resulting in a poor shot selection.
"Get a foul, get a layup," Brown hollered at everyone. "It's the nature of our sport."
For 12 NBA players, their summer schooling in basketball's basics continued for a week at John Jay College in New York as Brown and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich tried to break down some of the finest players in the world and build them back up into a team that the world fears.
Assistants Roy Williams and Gregg Popovich have Brown's full confidence.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE
"This is a team, basically, is on a mission to re-establish the USA as the pre-eminent team," Popovich said, "and to do that, we've got a lot of work to do in becoming a basketball team, changing and morphing from an All-Star team to a basketball team."
And like any team led by Brown, the emphasis is on teamwork, tempo and tenacious defense. Mastering all three in 10 days of practice will be necessary to succeed in the FIBA Americas Olympic Qualifying tournament in San Juan, Puerto Rico, from Aug. 20-31.
"He's teaching as if we've never learned [defense] before, and some of the stuff, I actually haven't, the way he wants to run it," forward Elton Brand said. "He's a great teacher and he's showing us how he wants things done. Little things like which way you should look when you're denying the ball."
Players have also look to deny their egos as well as their opponents' passes. As Tracy McGrady found out the loud way when he got an earful from Popovich about a missed assignment, no one is exempt from instruction.
"It's important for us to really learn each other and understand what Coach Brown is trying to get out of us," forward Vince Carter said. "Because we all have individual talent, it's more so just us trying to find a common bond, as far as being a team. And that's probably going to be the biggest challenge."
Popovich noted that while this U.S. team is talented, the rest of the world has improved as well.
"All the teams that have done well in the past: Argentina, Brazil and Puerto Rico are the most obvious," Popovich noted. "With a 40-minute game there are probably five or six teams that could do a heck of a job and put a hell of a scare into you.
"Given what's gone on in international basketball in the last decade, we're very aware of how many good players and more important, how many good teams and how many well-coached teams there are."
One of the good players Team USA will face in the qualifying tournament is one of Popovich's Spurs, Argentina's Manu Ginobili. No feelings will be spared when Popovich and Tim Duncan meet Ginobili.
"Manu is the enemy," Popovich said with a sly grin on his face. "I'm going to call his room the nights before the games we play them. We'll try to keep him up all night. I'll do all kinds of things to keep him away from the court if I can because he's an amazing basketball player.
"When we compete against them, Manu will care about one thing and that's his basketball team is winning and Timmy will think the same way. That's good, that's the way it should be, it's healthy and we're all looking forward to it."
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