Carmelo emerges as USA Basketball star |

Carmelo emerges as USA Basketball star

Andrew Bagnato
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

LAS VEGAS ” There seems to be some debate over whether Kobe Bryant or LeBron James is the face of USA Basketball.

But what about Carmelo Anthony?

Denver’s star forward has earned it after his star turn at last year’s world championships. Anthony figures to play a big role again when the Americans play for an Olympic berth in the FIBA Americas tournament, which tips off next week.

“If they want me to be the face of it, I don’t have a problem with that,” Anthony said after the U.S. practice Thursday at Valley High School. “I’m still young. I’m only 23 years old. I’ve got a lot more basketball in my body. Whatever they want me to do, I’m here for them.”

Some NBA players struggle with rough-and-tumble international basketball. It seems to bring out the best in Anthony, who has also thrived in the NCAA and NBA.

“I can adjust to all types of games,” Anthony said. “I don’t need the ball to be effective. I can go in there and get some rebounds, get some assists and get some steals and score when I have to.

“I don’t really have to try to go out there and score 30, 40 points for this team to win,” said Anthony, who has averaged 24.1 points in four NBA seasons. “I can do the little things.”

As the Americans prepare for the FIBA Americas tournament next week, there’s been a lot of attention on newcomer Kobe Bryant and how he’ll mesh in the backcourt with LeBron James. But if Anthony reprises his performance from the world championships last summer, he might be the glue that holds the Americans together.

“Arguably, Carmelo was the most important player we had last year,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I love Carmelo.”

The FIBA Americas tourney will be Anthony’s seventh with the United States. At age 20, he played sparingly on the 2004 Olympic team that settled for a bronze medal in Greece.

He had a bigger role on the world championship team that won a bronze medal in Japan last summer, serving as a tri-captain with James and Dwyane Wade.

Anthony led the Americans in scoring, averaging 19.9 points. His 35 points against Italy set a single-game U.S. scoring mark for the world championships.

Anthony shot 50.4 percent (64-for-127) from the floor and 44 percent (22-for-50) from beyond the 3-point arc. He also averaged 3.7 rebounds and had 17 steals.

He was selected to the world championships all-tournament team and was honored as USA Basketball’s 2006 Male Athlete of the Year.

Anthony picked up where he left off in an intrasquad scrimmage in July, scoring a game-high 28 points.

Anthony has already shown he can perform at the highest levels of the NCAA ” he led Syracuse to the 2003 national title as a freshman ” and in the NBA, where he finished a close second to James in Rookie of the Year voting in 2004.

He has also dominated international play. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound Anthony is well-built for FIBA basketball, where much of the contact is considered incidental.

“He’s so versatile, powerful,” Krzyzewski said. “He can really shoot the heck out of the ball. But he can rebound it. He’s not afraid. He’s a kid that’s just not afraid.”

Krzyzewski said he didn’t know Anthony very well before the forward was invited to join Team USA, but he had a glowing report from assistant coach Jim Boeheim, who coached Anthony at Syracuse.

“Carmelo’s a winner, and he’s a heck of a competitor,” Krzyzewski said. “He plays with courage on both ends of the court. I’d like him on my team any time.”

Anthony’s image took a hit when he was suspended 15 games last season for his part in a brawl between the Nuggets and the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. The unpaid suspension cost Anthony about $641,000 in salary.

Anthony said he’s put the episode behind him. Playing for his country ” and playing well ” will also help him restore his reputation.

“I moved on a long time ago,” Anthony said. “I’m back where I wanted to be, where I’m supposed to be. Now I’m here trying to get a gold medal. I can’t ask for anything better than that.”

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