With a massive budget, the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team has a treasure trove of information on its opponents. There are scouting reports, game films, statistical breakdowns -- anything and everything a coach or player needs to prepare for any upcoming game.
So, with the Americans getting ready for their second preliminary-round game, forward Kevin Love was asked what he knew about Tunisia.
“Not much,” he said.
He and his U.S. teammates are about to find out.
Coming off a less-than-stellar, but still impressive 27-point win over France in its tournament opener, the U.S. team will play Tunisia on Tuesday night in what has the potential to be a blowout of epic proportions. The U.S. and Tunisia have only met once previously with the Americans romping to a 92-57 win at the 2010 world championships in Istanbul after leading by only six points at halftime.
During Monday’s practice, the U.S. team got familiar with Tunisia’s offensive sets and will be briefed on the African champion’s personnel before taking the court. What the Americans will learn is that Tunisian team is tall with seven players on its roster over 2.03 meters (6-foot-8).
Other than that, there may be no worries.
And although the game will likely turn into nothing more than a prolonged dunk contest for the Americans, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski won't let his team relax - or lower its gold standard.
“It’s about our performance,” he said. “We should beat Tunisia, but we want to play well against Tunisia. When you play games in your pool and you're a significant favorite, you don’t want to just win, you want to maintain and build good habits. We don’t want to overlook anybody because then we overlook ourselves. And in short period of time you can fall into a bad habit that will have its impact on a game where you're not a significant favorite.”
Among the many positives to come out of the win over France was the re-emergence of Love.
After struggling during most of the pre-Olympic exhibition tour, Love gave the U.S. a spark off the bench, scoring 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting. A member of the 2010 world title team, Love hadn't figured out his role on this squad but is beginning to understand he can have a major impact.
“I don’t know if I’ve finally gotten into a rhythm,” he said. “I’ve just had an opportunity. I got a chance and throughout my whole career I have worked as hard as I can to stay ready and I think I did that here. I think early on I couldn't really find myself in the offense -- or defense for that matter. But I think now hopefully yesterday was a good omen for me going forward.”
At 2.08 meters tall (6-foot-10), Love can give the U.S. inside muscle or outside firepower. He won the NBA’s 3-point shooting contest at the All-Star game this year.
“We need him to be the guy he was last night, coming off the bench and getting rebounds and making outside shots,” LeBron James said. “He’s another big body we can use.”
If there was one day to go sight-seeing, to check out Big Ben and Buckingham Palace or pick up an Olympic souvenir, Monday was it.
But with their sights set on a gold medal, this group of Americans wanted to work on a few things.
“We need to get better,” James said before practice at East London University. “We know we don’t have time to waste an opportunity to get better. This is a long, but short tournament. We’ve got to take every practice, every film session, every game and try to improve. We're not going to let our guard down no matter who we’re playing against.”
“We can’t waste a minute going backwards. We have high goals.”
Tunisia, which lost to Nigeria in its first Olympic game, doesn’t figure to be anything more than a punching bag for the Americans to bludgeon. The U.S. might be able to name its score against a Tunisian squad ranked No. 32 in the world and without any NBA players on its roster. It could be more of the same on Thursday against Nigeria.
However, Krzyzewski believes the opponent is inconsequential. It’s about the U.S. playing up to its potential -- and then some. There’s a standard to be met, an expectation that comes with being the best. Krzyzewski likened it to an actor on Broadway.
“You have a performance to give, you know,” said Krzyzewski, who would never demean any team. “Are you doing it on a Wednesday matinee, a Saturday night? It’s not who you're playing. You should never judge how you’re going to perform or potentially who you're going to play against. You are the person performing, your team is performing. You never want to get into the habit of just getting by, because eventually you don't get by.”
After Sunday’s game, French forward Nicolas Batum called the U.S. beatable and rattled off Brazil, Argentina and Spain as teams which could upset the U.S.
Kobe Bryant wasn’t aware of the comments, but he agreed with them.
“He’s right,” Bryant. “Everybody does have a shot to beat us, absolutely.”
And he meant it.