06-23-08 -- MVP Kobe Bryant has a shot at another big prize after falling short of the NBA championship, and he’ll have plenty of help along the way.
LeBron James is there. Dwyane Wade, too.
They will lead a U.S. Olympic basketball team that was announced Monday and hopes to capture the gold medal in Beijing in August after a third-place showing in Athens four years ago.
The team already has “re-established itself” on an international level, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said during a news conference.
The next step is to bring home the gold, and the U.S. will send a deep, versatile team to China. Carmelo Anthony and Jason Kidd were also among the 12 players chosen from a pool of 33. They were joined by the Detroit Pistons’ Tayshaun Prince, along with Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Michael Redd and Deron Williams.
“It was a very difficult selection process,” Colangelo said. “When you have as many outstanding players as we have in this country—to select a group of 12 is obviously going to leave out a number of outstanding people.”
The Pistons issued a statement from Prince in which he said he was “honored to be selected.”
“I take great pride in being given the opportunity to represent my country, and I strongly believe that with the team that has been assembled, the United States will be represented well,” Prince said.
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 in Athens.
“I’ve always seen greatness in the Olympics, but that was never one of my dreams,” Wade said. “I never really expected to be on the Olympic team, especially in my first year. I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into. … Now, we respect the game so much. We respect the team basketball that they play internationally so much.”
Anthony saw the 2004 Games as a chance to have “some of the best workouts in the summertime 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’re a team already,” Krzyzewski said. “The thing that this program has done is … provide continuity and relationships. … We’ll hit the ground running.”
Phoenix forward Amare Stoudemire withdrew from Olympic consideration, apparently concerned about pushing his body too hard after knee surgery in 2005 and 2006. So did Detroit’s Chauncey Billups, who would have had a tough time making the team given the backcourt depth.
Wade’s season ended in March because of a sore left knee that had been bothering him since surgery in 2007. He started working out in his hometown Chicago in May, and James and Paul joined him to help sharpen his game. Colangelo visited recently and left convinced the 6-foot-4 guard was healthy.
“This was to see how far along he had come in his rehab,” Colangelo said. “That was the whole thing. Plus, I had a little conversation I wanted to have with him. We took care of that. I watched him work. I saw him do a few things in terms of explosiveness that showed me that he was pretty much back.”
Trainer Tim Grover has been working out with Wade. Colanagelo said Grover assured him the Miami Heat star will completely ready when the team gathers in Las Vegas next month.
“I feel great,” Wade said.
And he’d feel even better with a gold medal dangling from his neck.