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Olympic basketball practice has Midnight Madness feel

| Saturday, July 14, 2012, 6:51 p.m.
USA Olympic forward LeBron James runs onto the court for a practice Saturday in Washington. AP

WASHINGTON — Dancers were performing during breaks in the action. Dunks were greeted with “MVP!” chants.

Mascots, merchandise giveaways and hot dog stands had the feel of an NBA arena, not the U.S. Olympic men's team's workout.

Of course this was no game. As Allen Iverson would say: We talkin' about practice.

The U.S. Olympic basketball team went through a most unusual workout Saturday, an open practice for military personnel and families at the D.C. Armory that felt more like Midnight Madness on a college campus than a team getting ready to defend a gold medal.

“We understand it's kind of — actually every day with USA Basketball is a little bit different,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Not bad, but certainly different. But today was different in a very spectacular way. All of our guys were proud to be here.”

And while France, the Americans' opening opponent in London, was playing an exhibition game against fellow medal contender and reigning Olympic silver medalist Spain on Saturday, the Americans were taking part in what felt like a pep rally, an environment loaded with distractions.

Yet because of the people watching, and Krzyzewski's military background, the day was worth it. Krzyzewski played and coached at the U.S. Military Academy and attained the rank of captain before resigning from the Army in 1974. He has had a career-long dedication to USA Basketball.

“Just being here in front of these guys, the troops and the military, you can't put into words how that made us feel,” Carmelo Anthony said.

Put together jointly with Nike, the practice as part of what's called the “World Basketball Festival.”

Music blared outside, and the sneaker company's influence was everywhere. The crowd included Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who dined with the Americans on Friday night, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and former Georgetown stars and gold medalists Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning. They sat with their college coach, John Thompson, who understood why the Americans' motivation Saturday.

“That's what you do when you have a group of guys like this,” he said. “You don't have to sit down with a lot of serious stuff.”

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