WASHINGTON — Don't call them Shorty.
The U.S. men are tired of hearing about their Olympic basketball team's size problem. Instead of being called small, they'd prefer to be known as versatile, quick, athletic, or something else that recognizes their strengths and not their, uh, shortcomings.
"Really it's kind of boring to keep answering the question of what are you going to do with the bigs," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said Sunday. "Like, this is who we have. Why don't we talk about what we're going to do with what we have, than talk about what we don't have? I don't really understand how that's productive. So I'm trying to dismiss that and concentrate on what we're doing."
The U.S. is down to just Tyson Chandler as the lone natural center on the roster. Dwight Howard is out after back surgery, and big man options such as Chris Bosh and Blake Griffin later joined him on the sidelines.
Yes, the Americans realize that could put them at a disadvantage against the likes of Spain or Brazil, who they will face Monday in an exhibition game. But they'd also like to know what team is supposed to defend a front line of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony?
"Look, maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think so," USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "I'll take versatility and athleticism and speed and quickness. That beats size all day long, because size alone can't get it done."
If he was going to be wrong, it would seem to be against a team such as Brazil, which has loads of NBA size up front with Nene of the Washington Wizards, Cleveland's Anderson Varejao and San Antonio's Tiago Splitter on the roster. The Americans then travel to Europe and play tuneup games in Barcelona against Argentina and the Spaniards, who have NBA stars Pau and Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka along their front line.
Brazil came closest to beating a similarly sized U.S. team two years ago at the world basketball championship, falling by two points when Leandro Barbosa's shot bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
Colangelo thinks the days of the traditional low-post center are gone, largely because there are so few talented bigs anymore, and calls the size debate "overused conversation for sure."
Dominican coach John Calipari of Kentucky said afterward that the U.S. was big enough, agreeing with an opinion U.S. assistant Mike D'Antoni had when the Americans faced the same question four years ago: No team with James in the frontcourt is small.
Listed at 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds by the Americans, James has called himself an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier. Durant is 6-9, but with a wingspan that makes him seem 6-11. The 6-8 Anthony has played out of position as a power forward and has no fear of pounding against bigger players.
"The quickness of this team, this is the quickest team I've ever coached, including U.S. teams," Krzyzewski said. "We have to build on that. Instead of talking about the fact that we don't have many centers — it would different if we had Dwight and Chris Bosh. We'd play a little bit differently. We don't, so we have to rely on our strength, which is versatility, quickness, speed. But our guys are big."