: Everybody knows that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are on the U.S. Men's Senior National Team about to compete in the Beijing Olympics, but did anybody expect that Marvin Gaye would be a surprise member of USA Basketball this summer?
Before Saturday's practice began at Cox Pavilion, head coach Mike Krzyzewski gathered his team around a TV showing Gaye singing The Star-Spangled Banner at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game.
Lon Rosen, the Los Angeles Lakers' director of promotions when L.A. hosted the '83 All-Star Game, told National Public Radio in 2003 that he thought Gaye "took the anthem to a new level" that night.
Now, 25 years after Gaye wowed the crowd with his rendition of Francis Scott Key's masterpiece and eight years after U.S.A. Basketball last won an Olympic Gold Medal in Sydney, Krzyzewski is using the song as a motivational tool, hoping the U.S. can return to the level it once occupied of being known for having the best hoops players in the world.
"What we try to do is have people visualize moments that they may be in," Krzyzewski said. "One of the great moments of playing for the United States is when you're across the court before a ballgame and you're in this Olympiad and the national anthem is being played and instead of having a fight song or whatever, that's our song.
"Today I wanted them to envision the gold medal game. It's August 24 and they're out on the court, and I get chills thinking about it right now, our anthem will be played and if we do what we're supposed to do, they'll get that vision of being on that gold medal stand and again our national anthem will be played, and one of the greatest renditions of it was Marvin Gaye's."
Coach K drilled it into his players to take the weekend to celebrate the accomplishment of being named as one of the 12 players on the Olympic team after a three-year commitment to the program, but also to mentally prepare themselves for the journey ahead of them that needs to be traversed before there is a gold medal around their neck.
As Managing Director of U.S.A. Basketball Jerry Colangelo puts it,"OK, we've been together for a couple years, we've accomplished a lot, we still have a lot of work to do, how do we mentally prepare ourselves? Let's focus at the job at hand. That's what it's been about this weekend, just to get a lot of it out of the way so that when we reconvene on July 20, that's behind us. Then it's a focus of just getting the team ready."INJURED NO MORE
Four players who previously participated with the current iteration of U.S.A. Basketball, but missed last summer's FIBA Americas Tournament, we back in the fold on Saturday.
Dwyane Wade (shoulder), Chris Paul (ankle), Chris Bosh (foot) and Carlos Boozer (wife's pregnancy) had differing reasons why they were unable to participate last summer, but shared the same sentiment of appreciation to be involved in Beijing.
"All of us are happy to be back," Wade said. "Myself, Chris and the other Chris, we played in 2006 and it's good to be back in 2008. Boozer played with us in 2004. It's good for us all to be back together playing again."
"It was kind of tough last year," Bosh added. "I came, I worked out with the team, but I wasn't able to continue to work out because of my foot and everything. I kind of had to take a step back and just watch the team play well and have fun. I knew I had to pace myself. I couldn't put all my eggs in one basket last summer and I'm glad I waited."
Paul is ecstatic to be back healthy and ready to go. "It means everything," the Hornets point guard said. "This is a very special, humbling feeling. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity."VERSATILITY EQUALS ADAPTABILITY
Scanning through the 12-man roster, the one position that could be a liability is center, where the U.S. only has Dwight Howard as a true five.
Even if his nickname is "Superman," Howard can't be expected to play all the minutes in the middle.
By not selecting Amare Stoudemire or Tyson Chandler for the final group, the team has resigned to the fact that Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer will be sliding over to the center spot when need be.
Krzyzewski sees no problem in that.
"It's one of the reasons we picked a very versatile team because the international game is not the NBA game and the international game has a lot of versatility," the Duke University coach said. "There are a lot of versatile players and we need to match that.
"Anybody can look at any roster and see potential problems because there's no perfect roster. The thing that we've tried to do is pick a team that will be as close to 100 percent for the international game."
Bosh is one of the players willing to play multiple positions, "I'm just trying to help out this team whatever way I can. If they want to play me at center or play me at the four spot, just put me in the game and I'm going to do the same thing. I'm going to rebound, I'm going to run the court, I'm going to spread the court and shoot it when I'm open and pass it when it needs to be passed."
Deron Williams, known as a point guard, could see some time at shooting guard playing alongside Jason Kidd or Paul.
"There's a lot of different lineups," Williams said. "That's the thing about this team, we're so versatile. I could be playing with J-Kidd, I could be playing with CP, I could be playing by myself [as the point guard]. I think that's what makes our team so special. We can play so many lineups; we can go big, we can go small and we're all super athletic."
Howard sat out of Saturday's practice and Bosh filled in at center with the first unit.
"Howard is six weeks away from the playoffs when he had a stress fracture in his sternum," Krzyzewski said. "The normal period of recovery they say is 6-8 weeks. It's just precautionary. There's no need to do anything today. He's got three more weeks, let's make sure he's healthy."