Deep U.S. squad has big advantage

By Brian Mahoney The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS – In the marathon FIBA Americas early round format of eight games in nine days, the advantage clearly goes to the deepest teams.

As if the United States needed any more help.

“Obviously, we have depth,” reserve guard Michael Redd said. “Our team is so deep, so you’re not playing a whole lot of minutes. That’s what we need to win, depth.”

The Americans have more of it than any team in the field, a big reason they were undefeated as they headed into yesterday night’s second-round game against Puerto Rico.

The U.S. team already has the most talented starting lineup in the 10-team field, but it becomes almost unfair when teams are forced to their bench. While most don’t have the luxury of a game changer, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski’s usual reserves have included an NBA finals MVP (Chauncey Billups), a first-team All-NBA pick (Amare Stoudemire) and his two best shooters (Redd and Mike Miller).

For the Americans, changing personnel doesn’t mean changing playing styles. They sometimes have even looked better with the subs in, such as when they blew open their victory against Canada early in the second quarter.

“I don’t like to call them our second unit, because each of them has a role,” Krzyzewski said. “To get them that many minutes, we all stay in shape and we don’t get overtired.

“We save our legs, but everyone gets good wind. The way we’ve been substituting, they’re accustomed to not pacing themselves at all. In other words, instead of running a mile, they’re running a 100-yard dash.”

A deep roster is mandatory in the Olympic qualifier. After playing four games in the first five days against the rest of its group, only one team from each side was eliminated. The other four moved to the second round, which started without a day off in between and features four games against the teams that advanced from the other pool – whether they really deserved to or not.

Puerto Rico, Mexico and Venezuela all won just once in the first round, but that was good enough to earn them an extended Vegas vacation, lengthening a tournament that seems too long already. Some people aren’t even sure what to make of the format.

“I don’t know, it is what is,” USA Basketball Managing Director Jerry Colangelo said. “Look, I didn’t even want to be here. If we had done our job last summer we wouldn’t be here, but we are, and so we have to play 10 games in 12 days. We’ve got a good roster, it’s deep, I think you’ll be able to use a lot of players in most games and let’s just get through it.”

Not every team can. Former Pittsburgh guard Carl Krauser, playing for the U.S. Virgin Islands, was hospitalized with dehydration while playing four consecutive days. Perimeter-oriented Puerto Rico struggled whenever it was forced to go long stretches without Peter John Ramos, its only real center.

“Every time he goes into foul trouble, it’s tough for us to stay in the game because we lose our big guy,” Puerto Rico guard Carlos Arroyo said.

That’s the kind of thing the Americans shake off. Krzyzewski said the Americans faced “adversity” when starters Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard were in foul trouble and reserve Tayshaun Prince was injured against Brazil. But with other players stepping up, the Americans had little trouble overcoming it in a 113-76 victory.

The U.S. depth could be a huge factor tomorrow night against Group A champ Argentina, which is here without many of its top stars and will be playing for the eighth consecutive day. That’s a schedule no NBA player could imagine, and LeBron James said it even caught up a bit to the Americans during their somewhat sluggish performance Monday night against Mexico.

But they think they can handle it.

“We are very excited about what’s going on,” James said. “Right now were all confident and sky high. So we can play a lot of games, you know, that’s fine with our guys. We need to take care of our bodies and get ready to play.”