Team USA's journey began in '04 Games

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LONDON -- Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when some of the United States' greatest basketball minds and players gathered in a room above the National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago's Little Italy in 2005.

Their mission was to fix USA Basketball in the wake of an embarrassing bronze-medal finish by a dysfunctional team at the 2004 Olympic Games.

Jerry Colangelo was in the room. Dean Smith. The late Dave Gavitt. Michael Jordan, his frustration spilling out in a passionate speech.

Galvanized by anger, the group put Colangelo in charge and gave him total control and a mandate: fix this mess.

In 2006, Colangelo hired Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to lead the national senior team. Krzyzewski, a U.S. Military Academy graduate, sold the players -- a collection of all-star egos -- on a culture of commitment and unselfishness.

And Sunday, in the men's gold medal game at the London Olympics, one of the great runs in U.S. basketball history culminated in a 107-100 victory against Spain.

Under Krzyzewski, who plans to step down as national team coach, the U.S. won bookend Olympic gold medals in 2008 and '12, sandwiched around the 2010 FIBA World Championship title.

"He's done something no one else has ever done: an Olympics, a world championship and an Olympics back-to-back-to-back," Colangelo said.

"That's a record that's going to be pretty hard to beat."

Team USA will look different going forward. Kobe Bryant announced that these were his last Olympics. And if NBA Commissioner David Stern gets his way, the U.S. roster will have an age cap of 23 (an idea opposed by the United States Olympic Committee, not to mention basketball fans and the players).

Asked about the future of USA Basketball, Bryant sounded unconcerned.

"We have a lot of talented players coming up," he said.

"Hopefully, we'll continue to grow our program, continue to mentor the young fellas coming up and carry on the tradition."

The United States has won the gold medal 14 times in 17 appearances at the Olympics. Team USA's record is 130-5 overall and 11-0 against Spain, which it also beat in the final in '08.

Said Colangelo, "It makes you feel like if you have a plan and it's solid and you execute it, you have a chance."

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