Colangelo defends Team USA, predicts gold

TOKYO — Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo knows things haven’t gone as planned this summer with a volatile roster and some shaky performance on the floor. But as the Americans head into a vital game Saturday against the Czech Republic, he was emphatic that a fourth consecutive gold medal is still there for the team to take.

“If we don’t win, people will have their opportunity to take shots. I’m the one that has to look in the mirror and know that I did my best,” Colangelo said. “I’ll tell you in advance the answer is yes. I believe we’re going to win.”

After an opening loss to France last weekend, a 54-point blowout of Iran has put the U.S. in decent position to advance to the medal round next week. A victory over the Czechs would guarantee it, but the uneven play in run-up games in Las Vegas and the first Olympic loss since 2004 have the team looking vulnerable.

Colangelo, who will retire post-Olympics from his post after 16 highly decorated years, said virus restrictions, injuries and contract situations led to numerous players they were expecting to withdraw. That and COVID-19, which delayed the games for a year, disrupted the rhythm he had nearly perfected in preparing American teams for the Olympics.

“A lot of [players] called me and said they wanted to play, and then said, ‘Hmm, I’m not so sure.’ I can understand it; there’s been a lot of things going on,” Colangelo said. “It’s challenging when you can’t even go out the door, except to practice or to a game. It’s really hard. If all things were equal, we all had the same time to practice, we all had our rosters set… I don’t think we’d be having this discussion. I don’t. But that’s not the case. So we are going to do everything we can to overcome it now, and I believe we will.”

Colangelo explained what happened with Kevin Love, who was controversially invited to a spot on the roster earlier this month. Love played poorly in two exhibition games and withdrew, citing an injury.

“I didn’t think Kevin Love was going to play. I wasn’t even sure he had much left to play,” Colangelo said. “He reached out to us and said he was in shape and said he felt he owed us. And on the basis of that, we’re looking at someone with international experience who at one time was a heck of a rebounder and could still shoot the ball. You know, being like a 12th man on a roster.

“Well, it didn’t work out. He wasn’t in shape. And he was way behind as it turned out. So you move on. Call it a mistake. Call it giving someone an opportunity. Someone who had equity with us.”

Colangelo also addressed why Trae Young, who was coming off a strong season and was openly campaigning for a roster spot was not selected as a replacement when Bradley Beal left after testing positive for COVID-19.

“I’m happy that he wants to play for USA Basketball,” Colangelo said. “He’s done really well in the NBA. But predicated on what we felt we needed, he didn’t fit the bill this time around. He’s a young player, he has a future with USA Basketball, but it was the opinion of our staff that it wasn’t now. It’s for others to make the declaration you made a mistake’.”

There are several strong contenders lining up to challenge the U.S. for the gold. Australia, which beat Team USA in Vegas, has the strongest team the country has ever had. Spain, the current world champ, is dangerous. France has beaten the Americans twice in a row dating to 2019. Slovenia, led by Luka Doncic, is an ascendant contender.

“We’re still blessed with an awful lot of talent in this country. Just like this roster has an awful lot of talent,” Colangelo said. “This thing is a long way from being over.”

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