NEW YORK - The world championships are a big deal to most of the countries that play basketball. It has never been a particularly big deal in the United States. The Olympics have always been the tournament to Americans.
And you can tell the emphasis by the records. The USA has won just three of 15 world championships since they were first contested in 1950. The all-time record is 105-27. The USA has won 13 of 16 Olympic golds. The all-time record is 122-5.
The 2010 U.S. team for the world championships leaves tomorrow for Madrid, where it will play two exhibition games and train before it goes to Athens for more training and another exhibition. The tournament begins in Istanbul, Turkey on Aug. 28.
The A-listers who won the 2008 Olympic gold are not playing. No LeBron, Kobe, Melo, D-Wade or Dwight Howard. This B-list USA team has just one A-lister - Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant. In its first game together, it was more than good enough to crush France, 86-55, yesterday at Madison Square Garden.
Rudy Gay (19 points and several vicious dunks) and Chauncey Billups (17 points and still very cool) were the stars for the U.S. team. France's best player was seated across from his country's bench with his wife. Tony Parker and Eva Longoria Parker were the A-list celebrities in a jammed Garden.
The Sixers' Andre Iguodala started at small forward for Mike Krzyzewski's team. He took just two shots and scored two points. He was, however, quite effective, getting three steals and blocking a shot. He got his only basket after tipping an attempted lob pass from Yannick Bokolo, outrunning him for the loose ball and then sprinting down the right side for a flying dunk.
"Every night, I think we're going to have a different guy lead us in scoring," Iguodala said. "If we play the right, smart way, we're going to beat a lot of teams. We're going to beat every team."
Earlier yesterday, Jeff Green and JaVale McGee were cut from the team. Thirteen players are going to Europe. One more will be cut. It won't be Iguodala. Coach K has been praising him for weeks as the team's defensive stopper.
"Iguodala has been as good as anybody we have had so far," Krzyzewski said. "His defense is just at the highest level. He's really one of the great defenders, I think. But he has scored the ball well. Today, I think he had two shots, and it didn't stop him from playing defense. I even talked to him right after the game. I said, 'I'll try to get you more than two shots.' He said, 'No, coach, I'm OK.' I said, 'I know you're OK.' "
There are just 12 teams in the Olympics, 24 in the world championships. The USA is in Pool B with Croatia, Brazil, Tunisia, Slovenia and Iran, not exactly the Group of Death. The key game could be that matchup some politicians have been clamoring for - USA vs. Iran on Sept. 1.
Durant will be on the 2012 Olympic team in London. Given that almost all of the players from 2008 have committed for London, there are probably only two or three other spots unaccounted for. The U.S. players who are most effective in Istanbul will get a long look for those spots.
"I'm truly happy right now," said Iguodala, who neither looked nor played happy last season with the Sixers. "It's great to be a part of this."
If the USA wins the World Championship, it gets an automatic berth in the Olympics. If not, it will have two chances to qualify later in two different tournaments.
This USA team is very young, very athletic and very small. It has four point guards and only one player, Tyson Chandler, taller than 6-10.
Coach K has those four national titles at Duke, two Olympic gold medals (assistant in 1992, head coach in 2008). In two tries at the world championships, once with college players (1990) and once with pros (2006), his teams finished third. So there is something left for the most accomplished college coach of the last quarter century to accomplish.