By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
A three-year project that included the selection of 33 players for a national program, a bronze medal finish in the 2006 world championships in Japan and a gold medal finish in last summer's FIBA Americas Tournament in Las Vegas, finally reached a resolution yesterday. USA Basketball announced the 12-man squad that will try to end the United States' eight-year Olympic gold medal drought this summer in Beijing.
It featured the usual cast of megastars and a few surprises. NBA most valuable player Kobe Bryant, Olympic gold medalist Jason Kidd and three members of the bronze medal team from the 2004 Athens Olympics -- LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade -- headline a roster that also includes Chris Paul, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Carlos Boozer, Michael Redd, Deron Williams and Tayshaun Prince.
"This is a milestone for us to get to this point," Team USA Managing Director Jerry Colangelo said during a teleconference call with reporters yesterday. "We're really, really enthused about the makeup of this team from top to bottom."
The concept of assembling a "dream team" was supposedly scrapped in order to have a unit that featured both stars and role players. But when the final, fully loaded team was revealed, all but two members -- Williams and Prince -- had made an all-star appearance.
The U.S. team will have the NBA's top two scorers from last season in James and Bryant, three of the league's best point guards in Kidd, Paul and Williams, versatile forwards in Anthony and Prince, and a designated shooter in Redd. Wade, who missed most of last season because of shoulder and knee problems, was named after Colangelo watched him work out in Chicago.
The one area in which the team might be deficient is in height. The 6-foot-9 Boozer, the 6-10 Bosh and the 6-11 Howard are the only big men on the roster. Colangelo said the committee considered 7-1 center Tyson Chandler, but elected to add him to the list of alternates, which has yet to be finalized. Chauncey Billups and Amare Stoudemire, both members of last summer's U.S. team, backed out last week.
The team was selected without a tryout. Boozer, also a member of the 2004 team, was the only player selected without participating in either the 2006 world championships, last summer's FIBA Americas Tournament or both. Boozer is very familiar with U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, having played for him for three years at Duke.
The team will have a short minicamp this weekend in Las Vegas then return July 21-25 for training camp and an exhibition against Canada before traveling to Asia to play four additional exhibition games. It will open Olympic play against China on Aug. 10. The Americans will scrimmage with a yet-to-be-named select team in July, Colangelo said.
"It's really the world's game. We feel we are the best at playing that game," Krzyzewski said at a news conference in Chicago, where the team was announced. "But until we show the respect to the rest of the world that it is the world's game, I don't think we'll ever reach the point that we need to, to do this right. We feel like we are going to be ready to go."
After that embarrassing third-place finish in 2004, Colangelo said the culture of USA Basketball had to be changed, a commitment had to be made to ensure that the United States wouldn't just round up some all-star talents, throw them together and ask them to play at the snap of a finger.
That opportunity also was denied since the United States actually had to qualify for the Olympics this summer. The Americans lost in the semifinals against Greece at the world championships, forcing the team to regroup in Las Vegas. With Bryant and Kidd on the team, the United States went 10-0 in the FIBA Americas Tournament, winning by an average of 39.5 points -- the largest since the original Dream Team in 1992 won the Olympic tournament by an average of 43.8 points.
Krzyzewski said the starting lineup will remain the same as last summer, with Howard at center, Anthony at power forward, James at small forward, Bryant at shooting guard and Kidd at point guard. The 35-year-old Kidd was selected despite the emergence of Paul and Williams. Kidd has an impeccable 44-0 record in four international competitions. He also was a member of the U.S. Olympic team that won gold in Sydney in 2000.
Since then, the United States has fallen on hard times with regards to the game that was invented on its soil. The Americans foundered at the 2002 world championships in Indianapolis, finishing sixth. Then came the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where a U.S. team led by Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson couldn't avoid going 5-3, with losses to Puerto Rico, Lithuania and Argentina. That team was assembled hastily when several players backed out, forcing some young players and rookies to represent the country. Four of them are back, looking to lead the United States back to the top.
"We feel like we was thrown out there to the wolves," Anthony said in Chicago about his first Olympic experience. Anthony added that he, James and Wade want "to go back out there and redeem ourselves from what happened in '04. I think right now we have a great opportunity to do that and put the United States basketball where it's supposed to be worldwide."