Louie Traub, Associated Press
U.S. men's basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski addresses his team during Friday's game against Canada.

Mike Krzyzewski is up to the task of taking 12 of the most talented NBA superstars and molding them into one — the 2008 U.S. men's Olympic basketball team, where the goal is that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

And what if those parts include the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and the talented Utah Jazz twosome of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer?

"There's not one person — one coach or one player —who should be dominant," said Krzyzewski, the Duke University coach tabbed to lead Team USA at the '08 Beijing Summer Games. "The team is dominant."

When FIBA and Olympic basketball revamped its rules to allow professionals (read: NBA pros) to participate in the Summer Games, the United States' "Dream Team" sparked a three-straight gold-medal run for the Americans — '92 in Barcelona, '96 in Atlanta and '00 in Sydney.

But the U.S. hasn't had its way with the rest of the world since — a sixth-place finish at the 2002 World Championships, a 5-3 record and the bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics and third-place honors at the 2006 Worlds.

So USA Basketball revamped the way the team was selected and put more emphasis on player commitments. Officials started getting '08 commitments several years ago, the result being a 33-player U.S. Select men's roster from which the Olympic squad was selected.

And Krzyzewski, who was involved from the start, knows his players' roots as well as their egos.

"They need to be superstars on their individual (NBA) teams. They're the center of the wheel — everything emanates from them," he said following the team's first workout in Las Vegas last month.

"But on this team, they're not — not one of them is that," he added. "I talk about that, but they get it. There's no 'I want to be the center of the wheel' or 'I'm jealous' — they have nothing like that. These guys are terrific."

Krzyzewski senses Joe Fan has a hard time believing that.

"It goes against what normal people do or how people who are not superstars think that a superstar should act," said Krzyzewski, admitting the players' selflessness and coming together goes against perceived stereotype.

"I expected professionalism and cooperation — and I've seen it at a highest level," said Krzyzewski. "I expected it — it's just even better than I expected, and that says a lot about these guys."

With the dozen players on board, Krzyzewski has ratcheted up rhetoric — and the patriotism of playing for one's own country. Whether it be showing Marvin Gaye's famous rendition of the national anthem performed at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game or bringing in U.S. soldiers injured in Iraq as guest speakers, Coach K is creating a moment and a mindset.

"That's all part of this — in mind and spirit — so that when they're making these commitments, they understand that it's for a higher cause," he said.

Williams is a bought-in believer. Listen to him talk about the Olympics, and the word "represent" is an oft-repeated word.

"It's us as a whole representing our country," he said in one such soundbite. "A basketball player doing his duty for the country — we're going over there and representing."

Krzyzewski wants his team to play to its ability and not to succumb to the pressures of being under the media and fan microscope and bearing the burdens of great expectations "Our thing can never be to let us be our opponent — our opponent has to be the other team," Krzyzewski said. "These (players) are creating the environment that helps in that regard because if we're questioning or if we don't get it, we're beating ourselves.

"And if we're good conditioning-wise and strategy-wise, then we should be able to take care of that," he added. "So it's a matter of identifying how you might lose and eliminating those things."

So, while the rest of America sees Team USA with high expectations, Krzyzewski opts for another word and another direction.

"This isn't about expectations — it's about anticipation," he said. "It shouldn't matter to me what you expect — what should matter to me is what I anticipate.

"And what we anticipate is playing for a gold medals," he added, mindful that he and most of the other coaches and players on Team USA have a one-and-done Olympic opportunity. "The anticipation of that should be exciting."

But he still worries about an expectation-obsessed society.

"We're always about trying to throw snakes on somebody — 'you're supposed to do this, you're supposed to do that,"' he said. "OK, man, that's cool. But here's what we want to do, let's talk about what we want to do — and if you think that's what we're supposed to do, then God love you.

"But I'm not going there," he added. "I'm going, 'Here's what we want to do.' That's the kind of mindset we want for our team — it's a healthy, exciting way of doing it. It's what it should be — we're playing in the Olympics."

And instead of squaring off against expectations, the U.S. team faces the likes of Spain, Argentina and Russia.

"Our opponent is not our own team," Krzyzewski said. "Our opponent is the other guy."


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com