US team could get tough test from France in opener

As the world watched the queen, David Beckham and what seemed

like all of England take part in the Olympic opening ceremonies,

Mike Krzyzewski stayed in.

Back at the U.S. team’s hotel, Krzyzewski and his assistants

studied tape of France.

Krzyzewski isn’t taking any chances.

”To not prepare would be the ultimate sign of disrespect,”

Krzyzewski said, ”and the biggest, poorest assumption that you

could make.”

It’s gold time for the Americans, who open the 12-nation

tournament Sunday against France, a squad led by San Antonio guard

Tony Parker and featuring five other NBA players. The French are

one of several teams that believe they have a legitimate chance of

shocking the star-studded Americans.

”It’s a big test for us,” U.S. forward Carmelo Anthony said,

lacing up his sneakers Saturday before practice at East London

University. ”We’re going up against guys that we normally play on

a night-to-night basis, and those countries have put them all

together just like we have. And at the end of the day their main

goal is to beat the United States.

”There’s going to be some good battles.”

France will only be the first. This isn’t going to be some easy

sightseeing stroll along the Thames for the American team before

stepping onto the gold-medal stand. Spain, Argentina and Brazil are

all talented enough to not only compete with the U.S., but

potentially upset the world’s No. 1 team.

That wasn’t the case four years ago, when the U.S. steamrolled

through the field, winning by at least 20 points in each of its

first seven games before beating Spain 118-107 in the final.

Krzyzewski, who guided the 2008 ”Redeem Team” to gold, believes a

potential road to gold could have some dangerous bumps.

”The overall 12 teams are more talented, more seasoned,” he

said. ”Spain is just in the prime of their – 28, 29 (years of

age). Brazil is in that wheelhouse. I think Russia’s really, really

good. Obviously Argentina, everyone says they’re older but their

heart and talent has not gotten older, It’s just gotten better.

”There’s just more teams that feel that they have a chance to

win the gold medal – and medal – than they did in ’08.”

Count the French among them.

They finished second to Spain at last year’s European

Championships, and maintain they won’t be intimidated by the U.S.

team’s collection of All-Stars, MVPs and household names. France’s

players have no intention of being posterized on a dunk by LeBron

James or Kobe Bryant the way 7-foot-2 countryman Frederic Weis was

famously embarrassed by a soaring Vince Carter in the 2000 Sydney

Games.

France, 0-4 against the U.S. in Olympic competition, isn’t

frightened.

”For us there is no fear factor because we play against them

all the time,” said Parker, who will wear goggles to protect his

surgically repaired left eye. ”We know they are really, really

good. But it’s not going to be like the other teams where they

don’t see them and it’s like, ‘Oh, wow, I’m playing against Kobe

and LeBron.”’

Bryant likened France’s offense to the one Parker runs with the

Spurs. Everything starts with the ball in Parker’s hands, so the

U.S. team’s challenge will be to make him give it up.

”Slow him down and surround him,” Bryant said. ”Keep bodies

in front of him at all times.”

Turiaf, who recently won an NBA title with James in Miami, said

France’s familiarity with the U.S. players will help – to a

point.

”If you look at the NBA game everyone knows each and every one

of those players tendencies,” he said. ”Can they stop them? No.

What you try to do is just give yourself the best chance in order

to have some sort of success. I think all you can do is put

yourself in position to disturb them as much as possible.”

This U.S. team, comprised of five holdovers from the ’08 squad,

five from the 2010 world championship team and two newcomers, was

loose and relaxed before Saturday’s workout, a final tune-up before

beginning the five-game preliminary round. Durant and Anthony

playfully horsed around in the foul lane and Bryant smiled

amusingly as photographers jockeyed for position like paparazzi

trying to record his every move.

The mood will be decidedly different Sunday.

That’s when everything change. That’s when it matters.

”Everybody expects us to win gold,” James said. ”And that’s

what we’re here for. Nothing else.”

In recent days, Bryant, James and the other U.S. players have

been careful not to get trapped into making comparisons to the

Dream Team. Bryant recently caused a stir by saying the 2012

Olympians could beat the 1992 version that included Michael Jordan,

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

Jordan called Bryant’s comments ”not one of the smarter things

he ever could have done.”

For now, the talk has quieted, the comparisons can wait. For

this American team to be regarded among the others before them,

there can only be one medal.

”The legacy will be determined if you win the gold or you

don’t,” Krzyzewski said. ”We’re not talking about legacy everyday

but it is. We’re here to win a gold medal, and if we do less than

that, then it will be a big loss for us.”