Add a defensive stopper, a potent scorer off the bench, and one of the NBA’s most explosive athletes, and the U.S. is certain it has a powerful Olympic basketball team.
Better even than the one that won gold four years ago.
“We feel like we’re definitely a great team. We have all the pieces that we need,” forward Carmelo Anthony said. “We’ve got to put it together, but we feel like we’re the best team out there.”
They earned the final three spots that opened after a rash of injuries knocked out at least four players who would have been on the team. They beat out Eric Gordon, Rudy Gay and No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis of New Orleans, who couldn’t scrimmage this week because of a sprained ankle.
The Americans never had a close game four years ago until the championship game, when they pulled away in the final two minutes to beat Spain 118-107. Even with Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh unable to return from that team, the Americans think this one can be even stronger.
“When I think about `08, we were really good then. But like me, LeBron and D-Will, all of us talk about, you’ve got to think about how much better all of us are now than we were in ‘08,” Paul said. “All of us as players, we shoot the ball better. Guys are more athletic, guys are more confident. One through 12, no question we’re deeper than we were in ‘08.”
USA Basketball Jerry Colangelo acknowledged the adversity the team faced with all the injuries in his remarks before the players were introduced during a press conference, all wearing their white USA jerseys - James and Anthony even looking game-ready in white headbands.
“But as the dust settles, I’m proud to say that we’ve put together in my opinion a terrific team with great athleticism and great versatility and we believe we’re going to be successful,” Colangelo said.
Griffin showed he was healthy again after being slowed by a knee injury during the playoffs, putting on an impressive dunking display following practice Saturday. Harden, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year with Oklahoma City, gives the Americans more scoring punch off the bench, and Iguodala is a defensive specialist who can guard multiple positions.
The Americans lost Howard, Derrick Rose, Wade and Bosh to injuries in recent months, forcing them to scrap plans to name their 12-man roster on June 18. They asked the US Olympic Committee for a roster extension and added Harden and Davis to their original pool of finalists chosen in January.
Harden seemed a long shot, joining Griffin as the only player who didn’t play on either of the past two U.S. teams. But the Americans felt they needed someone comfortable with coming off the bench more than they did Gay, who was behind too many other forwards on the depth chart, and the result was three players from the Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Great characters, workaholics, just humble guys, humble guys and blessed to be in this position,” Harden said of himself, Durant and Westbrook. (Guys) who work hard and just set ourselves up for greatness and to achieve, and just to be on the same team with these guys means a lot.”
Colangelo was intrigued by Davis‘ skills, but the national player of the year at Kentucky sprained his ankle last week and was not able to take part this week, robbing him of a chance to show he was ready to handle international competition now.
Iguodala was frequently assigned the role of shutting down the opponent’s best player two years ago in the world basketball championship, and he previously had scrimmaged against the U.S. on the select team of young players, so Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski knew what he could do.
“I think they’ve just seen that I can pretty much play alongside pretty much anybody and still make an impact on the game. I don’t necessarily have to have the ball to make an impact on either end,” the 76ers swingman and first-time All-Star said. “I’ve been playing with Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, pure scorers, and when I get in, it won’t be a problem for me to fit in with those guys. I’ll jell right along with them right away.”
Colangelo said he believed this team was deeper and better than the ‘08 squad, but added that “only time will tell.”
The injuries leave the Americans short-handed at center, where Howard started four years ago in Beijing and Bosh backed him up. Chandler is the only natural center left, so the Americans will be forced to use some players out of their normal NBA positions.
But what remains is still the most athletic team in the world, with potent scorers at nearly every spot, and the Americans will look to overcome any size disadvantage by punishing teams in transition. Griffin said expects to be strictly at the center spot.
The Americans opened training camp Friday and will practice here through next Wednesday, then play an exhibition game against the Dominican Republic on Thursday.
The players who were not selected will be alternates who could be replacements in case of further injuries up until 48 hours before the July 27 start of the Olympics. Davis will stick around just in case, playing on the select team.
“I think we have guys on the team that’s definitely hungry at this point, especially young guys that want to go out and prove themselves,” Anthony said. “They’ve been showing that over the last couple of days in practice. What we put together in `08, we will never duplicate that again. But this is a new team, this is a new situation and this team wants to form their own identity.”
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