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Doing patriotic duty

U.S. men's basketball team rewards those willing to make the commitment, naming Bryant, James, Wade and others to the Olympic squad, and going out of its way to avoid any courtesy selections.

June 24, 2008|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

In past Olympics, the U.S. played basketball, whether it dominated (1936-1968, 1976, 1984, 1992-2000) or was upset (1972, 1988, 2004.)

This time, the U.S. men's basketball team is playing another game, hardball.

The 12 players whose selection was announced Monday had one thing in common: They were willing to make a three-year commitment.

In the case of Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, the commitment went beyond giving up part of their summer vacation.

Wade sat out the last five weeks of Miami's season and had to work out last month for U.S. managing director Jerry Colangelo to show he was OK.

Bryant, who played the last half of the Lakers' season with a torn ligament in his right pinkie finger, might still need surgery -- but has put it off until after the Olympics.

Of the 12 players on this team, eight -- Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd, Dwight Howard, Tayshaun Prince, Michael Redd and Deron Williams -- played on last summer's team that dominated the qualifying Tournament of the Americas.

There were no courtesy selections, regardless of anyone's place in the game. No one who didn't make that commitment was considered.

Asked during Monday's telephone news conference about Boston's Kevin Garnett, who won a gold medal with the 2000 team but was not selected this year, Colangelo said, "We never got any positive feedback of his interest.

"It was more about 'I've been there, I've done that and it's time for someone else to do it.'

"I had a number of conversations with his agent just to check the temperature of the water, and there was never any positive response. We would have loved to have had him . . . but obviously, it wasn't in the cards. . . .

"When I was asked to take on the position of managing U.S. basketball, I felt there were a number of things that needed to change. The culture certainly needed to change. We needed commitments from coaches and players alike for a period of time."

Wade was so gung-ho, he sat on the bench last summer for all of the qualifying games despite not being healthy enough to play.

Bryant wanted to play in 2006, but knee surgery stopped him, so nothing like a little operation on his finger was going to stand in the way this time.

"Obviously, when he sustained the injury [this season], we had a conversation," Colangelo said. "And he immediately said, 'Don't worry about me, I'm playing, I'll take care of that when the Olympics are over if I need to -- relative to potential surgery.

"You know, he's been focused on participating and being part of winning a gold medal for quite some time. So there was never any doubt with Kobe."

Bryant put on a USA uniform for the first time last summer as a driving force on the team that rolled through the qualifying Tournament of the Americans in Las Vegas, going 10-0, winning by 37.5 points a game.

"Kobe is unbelievably committed to representing his country," U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Last summer playing for our team, the first time he saw his uniform, he got emotional. . . .

"The first thing he did for us last summer, he was our best perimeter defender -- and that's a role he wanted. . . . I think we'll start out with the same thing, because he knows he can play that way and expend the energy on defense because of the offensive talent of his teammates. . . .

"We usually put him on the best perimeter player on the opposing team whether it be a point guard or a wing, and that's how we started the game. And that's how I want to start our practice sessions with that in mind."

The team will gather in Las Vegas for two days this weekend, then return for five days starting July 20.

After that, the American players will train in Macau and Shanghai before arriving in Beijing on Aug. 7, with the Olympic basketball competition starting Aug. 10 and ending Aug. 24.

Bryant will then have five weeks until the start of the Lakers' training camp to rest and have surgery, if needed.

If it's a short summer for him, at least it should be happier than last summer, no matter what happens in Beijing.


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U.S. men's basketball team

Roster for the 2008 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team, including statistics from the last NBA season:

*--* NO NAME P HT Age NBA Team PPG RPG APG 15 Carmelo Anthony F 6-8 24 Denver 22.5 9.5 2.0 4 Carlos Boozer F 6-9 26 Utah 16.0 12.3 2.8 12 Chris Bosh F 6-10 24 Toronto 24.0 9.0 3.6 10 Kobe Bryant G 6-6 29 Lakers 30.1 5.7 5.6 11 Dwight Howard C 6-11 22 Orlando 18.9 15.8 0.9 6 LeBron James F 6-8 23 Cleveland 28.2 7.8 7.6 5 Jason Kidd G 6-4 35 Dallas 8.6 6.4 6.8 13 Chris Paul G 6-0 23 New Orleans 24.1 4.9 11.3 14 Tayshaun Prince F 6-9 28 Detroit 13.8 5.5 3.2 8 Michael Redd G 6-6 28 Milwaukee 22.7 4.3 3.4 9 Dwyane Wade G 6-4 26 Miami 24.6 4.2 6.9 7 Deron Williams G 6-3 23 Utah 21.6 3.6 10.0 *--*

Head coach: Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University; assistant coach: Jim Boeheim, Syracuse University; assistant coach: Mike D'Antoni, New York Knicks; managing director: Jerry Colangelo.

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