MANCHESTER, England, July 19, 2012 _ Team USA is staying the night tonight.
They will leave for Barcelona in the morning, refreshed or not. You don’t get many nights off on the way to the Olympics after 40-point wins, but Team USA got that rare treat tonight, and perhaps the paparazzi will tell us more tomorrow.
This column is entitled Diary of the Uncredentialed because I am over here in Europe with Team USA until they enter the Olympic bubble.
Once they are in, I am out …
At least for now.
I haven’t played all my cards yet. But Diary of the Uncredentialed is what I will write until that elusive Olympic credential comes in, if it does. Maybe I’ll be better off embracing an outsider role a la Hunter S. Thompson, as colleague and SH columnist Jan Hubbard suggested when I told him about my $77 non-stop ticket to Manchester, which didn’t quite work out (more on that below).
So if I stick with Diary of the Uncredentialed, I will strive to entertain you with stories about Team USA and stories about the logistics and happenstances of covering them from outside of a mainstream media perspective. This if my fifth Olympics, and my last TV memory of the Games was Roy Jones Jr. getting mugged by the judges in Seoul in 1988.
I was not assigned to Barcelona in ’92, and I was covering baseball at the time and did not pay much attention. (Hubbard was there, and he’ll have a column about his experiences on Monday). I picked up Team USA coverage in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympics, and I’ve been with them at every stop ever since.
So here is tonight’s Team USA diary news:
Deron Williams got to accompany coach Mike Krzyzewski to the interview podium tonight after killing it as Team USA’s new starting point guard, which might be an experiment or might not be. Chris Paul had started against the Dominican Republic and Brazil, and Williams was a player who had to sit out the first few days of training camp until he signed his “$95 million contract,” which is what Krzyzewski called it at the podium.
D-Will had the good grace to not publicly inform Krzyzewski that the contract is closer to $100 million than it is to $95 million.
Bottom line is that Williams is more invaluable than people realize.
And now his he the starter, and maybe Chris Paul is the new Rajon Rondo, albeit to a lesser and different degree.
(RELATED CONTENT: Team USA will have 7 starters; Kevin Love the 10th man)
Some background: The last time Coach K and Jerry Colangelo took a team to Europe, it was the summer of 2010 and the team had to get from JFK in New York to Madrid.
Colangelo was on a limited budget and had chartered a shit-ass airplane (UPDATE: Colangelo disliked that description. He said it was the Lakers’ plane, and the refueling stops were necessary to comply with international aviation regulations). They had to stop at the edge of Newfoundland and in Greenland to refuel. It turned into a 20-hour excursion, and they were dead-ass tired as they walked into the Four Seasons in Madrid. I waited outside that hotel for them to arrive for 5 hours. I hung out with a freelance camera crew working for Nike (who got fired two days later for slacking), and I chatted with an 18-year old kid in a Grizzlies’ Navarro jersey that might be worth something some day.
Anyway, the next night the Americans played their first exhibition game, against Lithuania, and scored 8 points in the first quarter with Rondo as the starter.
Rondo walked the ball upcourt all night, and the U.S. team barely got through it. Kevin Durant and Eric Gordon carried them in what turned out to be a tighter game than it should have been.
‘Two nights ahead was a game against Spain, in Madrid, and the B-Deem team was in a crisis. If you are Team USA and you score 8 points in the first quarter of your first game on European soil, you are in a crisis.
Krzyzewski knew it, and two nights later against Spain he had a new starter — Derrick Rose.
The Americans jumped on Spain from the start, the crowd never got into it until 39 minutes had elapsed, and Rondo was toast. He quit the team two days later in Athens.
But here was the thing with Rose: He started to suck, seriously, and by the time we finished up in Istanbul two weeks later, Krzyzewski was going with Russell Westbrook as his go-to guy. Rose never had a good stretch again until the fourth quarter of the gold medal game against Turkey when the B-Deem team pulled away.
But the point here is that Krzyzewski developed quite an affection for Westbrook, who is also spending the night here in Manchester tonight after dropping nine dimes off the bench in the 40-point victory over Luol Deng, Pops Mensah-Bonsu and the Great Britain team, coached by American Chris Finch. (Best Olympic nugget anywhere: Paul Mokeski is an assistant for Team GB. I used to love Mokeski when I went to college in Milwaukee and he came off the bench, a pudgy white guy with range and an ethnic last name in that German-Polish American city, and Mokeski was beloved — even though he and and Jack Sikma and Sidney Moncrief and Paul Pressey never got past the Eastern Conference finals. But I digress.)
Westbrook and Williams are going to be the key guards for Team USA, no matter how good Paul is.
Krzyzewski has faith in them.
Deron was his finisher in Beijing. Paul was on that team, as was Jason Kidd, the starter and the calming veteran voice in the locker room.
But Deron Williams was Coach K’s favorite.
“There’s nothing he can’t do. Absolutely no weaknesses in his game,” Krzyzewski told me one afternoon in 2010 over dumplings and other Chinese delicacies at the Wynn in Las Vegas. ESPN picked up that check, and I encouraged gluttony on behalf of Uncle Walt.
The other place where Coach K made a change tonight in Manchester was at the 4, where Kevin Durant (who can be a 3 on defense) replaced Carmelo Anthony in the starting lineup. The is quite significant given the fact that Durant can’t be coming off the bench, especially after Team USA 1.0 shit the bed in the first quarter against Brazil. LeBron can play the 4 on defense, Coach K needs about 35 minutes out of Durant to win the gold medal, and he realizes it.
I give him credit for realizing it before the first game in Europe, instead of after as he did two years ago in the Rondo purge.
(RELATED CONTENT: Team USA is in trouble if lineup changes are not made)
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One other piece of Krzyzewski-CP3 history: Coach K lost faith in Paul and replaced him with Kirk Hinrich in 2006 at the World in Japan. I know because I was there. So there is a history of someone replacing CP3 at the point for Team USA. Hopefully Chris enjoyed himself against the Dominican Republic and Brazil. He now gets to become the energizer bunny off the bench.
Team USA leaves in the morning for Barcelona, 20 years after the Dream Team made history there. The exhibition opponents will be Argentina and Spain, two worthy opponents. The games should both be close. Team USA will not be a 32-point favorite like they were against GB (covering easily in one of the biggest lock bets ever).
I will in Barcelona tomorrow night, the airline gods permitting. I am flying EasyJet, so we shall see. Being a frequent flyer veteran who goes back to the days of People’s Express (you had to pay your fare in cash in mid-flight), I think I’ve seen everything.
Which brings us back to the $77 flight to the Olympics that I wrote about above.
So when I was looking at airline flights to get over here with the team, I found a one-way ticket fo 30,000 Continental/United miles and $77 in taxes. I had 32.000 miles in my account. Booked.
I got to Dulles airport from downtown Washington for $6 on the 5A bus, but that triumph was trumped by the “Cancelled” that was flashing next to the DC-Manchester non-stop. The woman at the counter told me I had been re-booked through Frankfurt with a 6-hour layover. She was not open to reason or discussion.
So I found myself in Frankfurt 8 hours later, I had a frankfurter at a very nice airport cafe (had to, right?), and went to my gate. I decided to put my head down to a two-hour nap, and three hours later when I awoke the place was empty, the airplane was gone and I was stuck in Germany with my brilliant $77 non-stop ticket that wasn’t quite that anymore.
Long story short: Wonderful Lufthansa woman, call to United, negotiated $75 change fee, Heathrow, sprint to connecting flight to Manchester, luggage didn’t make it, I stink like Muresan never did, I finally get to the hotel and open the computer, and it’s dead. (Loose piece of plastic in battery plug area).
So no luggage, no computer, no phone (memo to Verizon — get a roaming partner here), 300 Euro poorer.
But I made it to the game, it was a sellout with a genuinely raucous crowd, and Coach K replaced two starters. I’m glad I somehow made it here. And yes, it rained. And no, I did not pack anything with long sleeves. That was another 30 Euro.
So ends Diary of the Uncredentialed, Day One.
I’ll file again from Barcelona, Travel Gods permitting. I have a flight back to Gatwick a week from Friday. Perhaps I’ll be credentialed by then. Perhaps not. Maybe I’m better off without an Olympic credential. I have four old ones back home in New York, I’m feeling a been there-done that vibe, and maybe I’ll end up outside the bubble. Maybe that’ll be better. We’ll see.
Hasta luego en Catalonia.
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. He has covered every U.S. men’s national team at the Olympics and World Championship since 1996. Follow him on Twitter.