U.S. center Tyson Chandler was an All-American in high school at Compton… (Eric Gay / Associated Press )
Tyson Chandler has traveled a perilous path to his spot as a valued member of the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team.
A can’t-miss prospect as a youth player, he associated with and was led around by some dubious characters in youth basketball, from the Inland Empire to Compton.
Chandler’s talent and drive persisted, however, getting him to the NBA and to a championship with the Dallas Mavericks last year before accepting a free-agent deal with the New York Knicks and winning the league's defensive player of the year award.
PHOTOS: London Olympics, Day 12
Now, with the absence of Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, Chandler is the only true center for the U.S. Chandler's interior support was also reduced by the injury loss of Clippers star Blake Griffin, but as the superstar-laden team continues its march through the tournament, Chandler is confident of leaving London with gold.
Do you stop and appreciate how far you’ve come?
“Yes, I do. Things go so quick in this game, sometimes you don’t have time to think as it’s happening. But then when I sit down and talk to my mom and dad, I appreciate all the hard work, all the ups and downs it took to get here. There were a lot of characters who hung around me. But knowing what I wanted to accomplish in life and sticking to that no matter what helped. When you’re given so much early and told how great you are from such a young age, with so many expectations, it can be easy to go off course. But I had a dream and a goal that I refused to give up on.”
People identify you as the key to gold given the lack of a true, experienced center beyond you. Are you OK with that pressure?
“It’s something I knew coming in, being the only true, natural center. But it’s something I look forward to, knowing I’m surrounded by so many incredible athletes. All I have to do is do my thing. I don’t see it as pressure, because the only time you feel pressure is when you’re not prepared.”
Did winning the NBA title help prepare you for this? Build that confidence?
“It definitely helps. That’s the ultimate achievement.”
What centers are you expecting the most problems with?
“It’s sneaky, because you want to look at the big names, guys we know from the NBA, but there’s guys from the European leagues who are very tough. These guys are superstars in their world. So you have to be ready for everyone.”
How do you balance your nature of being aggressive versus the importance of staying out of foul trouble?
“I got to deal with that against Spain. I’ve got to get used to the calls being a little different, getting called for things I’m not used to getting called on in the NBA. The hand-checking in the post.… We can use the hand and an arm. Here, as soon as the other guy makes a move, you have to let go of them. I got that now. But it’s different.”
Have you felt abandoned at all given the absence of Howard and now Griffin? There’s a lot on you.
“I was hurting for Blake, you never want to see a guy go out like that, and I was looking forward to playing side by side with draft pick Anthony Davis of Kentucky, and he’s already learning a lot. He’ll be a great rookie and is willing to learn whatever is being taught.”
As part of your team experience, you and the team visited with wounded American soldiers and military families. I’d assume that influenced the depth of this experience being something beyond a basketball tournament?
“It gives me an understanding of what we represent. Being on this team is a lifelong achievement of carrying out a dream. But when you see those soldiers and their families, I can tell you every time we step out on the court, they are in our hearts.”
And you’re expecting gold?
“Yes. The talent these guys have and the competitors they are. These are all guys who know how to win. That’s what we’ll do.”