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Bryant caps Team USA camp in style

Lakers star scores 26 points in an intrasquad game as officials prepare to pare the roster.

July 23, 2007|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — Team USA was intact for its first mini-camp this summer.

Well, most of the team. Sort of.

Only 17 of the 32 players on the Team USA roster took part in a three-day camp that served as a precursor to a larger get-together next month and, of course, a chance for international redemption next year at the Beijing Olympics.

Kobe Bryant was in Las Vegas, as was LeBron James, and there didn't seem to be much concern about the fact that 15 players were absent for another chunk of the annual summer assemblies that have become mandatory since Jerry Colangelo took over as managing director of Team USA.

With bronze-medal finishes in the 2004 Olympics and last year's world championships still at the forefront of Team USA's psyche, the new motto might be: You bruise, you lose.

Those who didn't play this weekend included Dwyane Wade, Elton Brand, Shawn Marion, Chris Paul, Gilbert Arenas, Paul Pierce, Carlos Boozer and Lamar Odom. Most had medical excuses, but, as Colangelo said, "If you're not here to perform, it makes it more difficult to be in the final selection process."

Bryant had 26 points, including the go-ahead 18-foot basket with 6.6 seconds to play, in a Team USA intrasquad scrimmage Sunday at Thomas & Mack Center, the official end of the camp. Bryant's USA Blue team beat the USA White team, 105-104.

Team USA officials will pare the roster to 12 players for the squad that will compete in the FIBA Tournament of the Americas on Aug. 22-Sept. 2, also in Las Vegas. If the U.S. finishes first or second in that tournament, it gains automatic entry into next year's Olympics.

Throughout the weekend, Bryant did not give any indication what would happen with the Lakers when training camp rolled around in October, but he was upbeat in assessing the U.S. team.

"It means everything. Everything," he said. "I've been looking forward to this for a while, and to be in this position now and to represent our country, it's very special."

Bryant sat out last season's Team USA activities because of off-season knee surgery, but Colangelo could sense Bryant's fervor to make amends.

"I think he really was down in the dumps last year about his inability to play," Colangelo said. "During the course of this year, he made it very clear this was big to him, this was important to him."

Colangelo is just happy to have Bryant, who was not part of Team USA activities in 2003, 2004 and last year because of sexual-assault charges and two surgeries.

"We had a little fun with him the other night because he was supposed to play five times in the past for USA Basketball, but it never happened," Colangelo said. "Even when we heard he had arrived at the airport, we sent somebody over to make sure he was there."

Others who competed this weekend included Jason Kidd, Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and Michael Redd.

At least one person wasn't concerned by the absence of all the other players.

"Look around, man," guard Chauncey Billups said. "Those [other] guys are great players, but just look around at the guys that are in here.

"That's the beautiful thing about the NBA, is there's so many great, great players. We should be fine."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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Looking ahead

U.S. men's basketball team's early-round games in the FIBA Tournament of the Americas to be held in Las Vegas:

Aug. 22: vs. Venezuela, 8 p.m.

Aug. 23: vs. U.S. Virgin Islands, 8 p.m.

Aug. 25: vs. Canada, noon

Aug. 26: vs. Brazil, 6 p.m.

Source: usabasketball.com

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