Amid numerous late departures and nonparticipation of a majority of the game's biggest stars, coach Mike Krzyzewski knows the United States might be in for its greatest challenge of his tenure at the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
He's confident the program he and Jerry Colangelo have developed is deep enough to withstand the test.
"We've done this for nine years now," Krzyzewski told Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears in a one-on-one interview. "These things, I've got accustomed to them happening. That's why there is a pool of players. That's why with [USA Basketball executive director] Jerry's [Colangelo] leadership we developed a program where you just don't pick 12 players, you develop a program."
Team USA opens up training camp Monday in Las Vegas as it prepares for next month's trip to Spain. Krzyzewski has compiled a 62-1 record in his nine years as the program's head coach, his lone defeat coming in the 2006 World Championship against Greece. His tenure has seen two Olympic gold medals and the U.S. is the defending world champion.
However, a few surprising late exits have the United States' stranglehold on international competition seeming tenuous.
Kevin Love and Blake Griffin, two expected cornerstones of the World Cup team, withdrew their names from consideration last week. Both players cited their NBA commitments as their chief reason for bowing out—though Love and Griffin are in much different circumstances.
Griffin, coming off the finest season of his career, is one one of the half-dozen best teams in basketball. The Clippers have their fair share of ongoing difficulties off the court, but the core of Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and Griffin place them among the early Western Conference favorites. That possible championship push—and preserving his body for a lengthy season—were chief among the reasons Griffin gave for pulling out in a team-issued statement:
I appreciate the invitation to play for Team USA this summer. It is a special opportunity anytime you have a chance to represent your country, and I was honored to be included. However, right now I want to focus and dedicate 100 percent of my energy on improving and preparing for the upcoming season with the Clippers.
Love's situation is far uncertain.
The All-Star forward has been the subject of trade rumors throughout the summer after informing the Timberwolves he plans to become a free agent in 2015. The Cavaliers, Warriors and Bulls are chief among the teams vying for his services. Love cited the ongoing trade rumors and the risk of potential injury as his reasons for not traveling to Vegas, per Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press.
Krzyzewski categorized himself as "disappointed" in their decisions, citing both as being important to the team's planning. Hawks forward Paul Millsap was a late addition to the team in an attempt to offset Griffin and Love's departures.
"As soon as they say they're not coming, it's done. I don't linger with that. I would rather concentrate on the guys here. The fact that [Love and Griffin] has just happened is fresh. We have to be reactionary to it. But we move on."
Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, who wasn't a guarantee to make the final roster, also pulled out because of a groin injury. Krzyzewski said he does not anticipate adding any more names to the training camp list.
Tops among the names not listed is LeBron James, who has not given a concrete commitment to his international basketball future. The four-time league MVP will not be attending the 2014 World Cup, but it's possible that he returns for the 2016 Olympics. He's also had a bit of a notable summer, making the surprise decision to return to the Cavaliers after four years in Miami.
While Krzyzewski admitted he had a feeling James would be returning home, he said the only advice he gave was for LeBron to look out for himself and his family:
I felt that that was what he was going to do. But he didn't say that. I just said, 'How are you doing? You've been good to everybody. Just be good to yourself. You should do what's in your heart and everything will work out. You're 29 and you won't be doing this forever. You have an amazing franchise in Miami. The Arison family is as good as a family as there is with [president] Pat [Riley] and [coach] Erik [Spoelstra], and you have home. Do what you feel is right for you.
The Duke coach, who was initially expected to step down following 2012's gold medal in London, confirmed to Spears he plans to leave international competition after Rio in 2016. For those in Durham worried that might mark the end of his collegiate career as well, fret not. Krzyzewski said he does not "see an end of my road in my college coaching."
Cut to everyone wearing blue and white doing a silent little fist pump. Team USA begins its World Cup journey on Aug. 30 with a game against Finland. The U.S. is considered a heavy favorite in Group C, which includes Turkey, Dominican Republic, Finland, New Zealand and Ukraine.
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