U.S. stars prepared to shine on China hardwood
Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 7:17 pm
By: By ANDREW SELIGMAN, AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — The reigning MVP. The scoring champion. Shooters, defensive specialists and dominant post players, too.
The U.S. Olympic team that was announced Monday appears to have all the elements to capture the gold medal in Beijing and rebound from a third-place finish in Athens four years ago. MVP Kobe Bryant has a shot at another big prize after falling short of the NBA championship, and this time, he’ll lead a deep team that includes LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
While it might be a bit premature to conclude the U.S. “has re-established itself” on an international level, as USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said during a news conference, it’s no stretch to say the team is versatile.
Besides Bryant, James and Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Jason Kidd were among the 12 players chosen from a pool of 33. They were joined by Tayshaun Prince, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Michael Redd and Deron Williams.
“The last couple of years, since 2000, you have seen the world caught up,” Wade said. “We have to play their game. … I feel now we have an unbelievable opportunity.”
The team was selected without a tryout.
It will have a minicamp this week in Las Vegas and meet there July 20-25 to train and play an exhibition against Canada before heading overseas. The Americans open Olympic play against China on Aug. 10.
Although the Americans captured the gold at the Sydney Games in 2000, they no longer dominate international play as they once did. The talent gap has narrowed and many top players have chosen to not play for the national team in recent years.
Now, the U.S. team appears loaded.
Then again, the Americans went 5-3 in Athens and lost for the first time since NBA players started competing in 1992 even though they had James, Anthony, Wade and Tim Duncan.
That group got routed by Puerto Rico before losing to Lithuania and Argentina, but this one is confident it will take the gold.
“It’s really the world’s game. We think we’re the best at playing that game,” said coach Mike Krzyzewski, warning that “unless we show the respect to the rest of the world that it is the world’s game” there will be no gold medal.
Wade and Anthony said they didn’t know what to expect when they went to Athens.
“Now, we understand the international game is good,” Wade said. “Those guys play together like I’ve never seen before. They can probably play with their eyes closed and know where each other is at, that’s how long they’ve been playing together. You have to respect that we’re going to their turf and trying to come out on top.”
Anthony saw the 2004 Games as a chance to “have some of the best workouts in the summer time with the best players in the world” and went there thinking “the USA is supposed to win everything.”
“Going through that experience really helped me to learn the international game,” Anthony said.
He’s part of a team that includes one of the best shooters (Redd) and defenders (Prince). There are role players and scorers, including the two biggest.
Bryant will play in his first Olympics after winning his first MVP while leading the Los Angeles Lakers to the finals. James averaged 30.0 points — just enough to beat Bryant for the scoring title.
Those two along with Anthony, Kidd and Dwight Howard started for a team that went unbeaten in the Olympic qualifying tournament last year.
Eight of the 12 players headed to Beijing played on that team and six played in the 2006 world championships.
“We did a good job of understanding it’s not about your ego, it’s not about your pride, it’s not about what you do on your other team,” Redd, who played on the national team last year, said at his basketball camp in Franklin, Wis. “It’s about coming together, being unselfish and winning a gold medal. Last year, I thought we did a good job of that after being together for only a year.”
AP Sports Writer Colin Fly in Franklin, Wis., contributed to this story.