U.S. basketball strong headed to ’08 | VailDaily.com

U.S. basketball strong headed to ’08

Brian Mahoney
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
Craig L. Moran, AP/Las Vegas Review JournalTeam USA's Mike Miller speaks with reporters after basketball practice at the Thomas and Mack Center Monday.

LAS VEGAS ” Jerry Colangelo insists he was not out to build a team of All-Stars when he created the USA Basketball national team program.

But maybe an All-Star team is exactly what the United States needed.

The Americans brought a strong one into their FIBA Americas tournament opener Wednesday night against Venezuela, one that looked more like the dominant U.S. teams of the 1990s than the ones who struggled so much in this decade.

Carmelo Anthony was on U.S. teams that managed only bronze medals in their past two events, and likes the way this one stacks up.

“I think it’s better than both teams just because we have more experience now,” he said. “We have guys who have been in situations, tough situations. Even though we lost last year, I think we took a step further toward where we want to be at.”

Or, where the Americans used to be.

When the United States starting using professional players for international events with the Dream Team in 1992, it was usually top pros. Players such as Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen all made multiple appearances in USA uniforms during the ’90s.

The expected U.S. starting five in this tournament of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Anthony, Jason Kidd and either Amare Stoudemire or Dwight Howard are all players who someday could join their predecessors in the Hall of Fame.

“All those guys playing at once like they did in 1992, the first Dream Team, we just haven’t had that opportunity to put all those guys together,” Kidd said. “But this team is just as talented as any team that’s been put together and we look forward to the challenge.”

Top NBA players started blowing off international play after the 2000 Olympics, and the United States paid for it with a horrendous sixth-place showing in the 2002 world championships, before the bronze medal performances in the ’04 Olympics and ’06 worlds.

Anthony was a late addition when the ’04 team was scrambling to add players, and acknowledges that he shouldn’t have been on a team that was supposed to be America’s best.

“No, not at all,” he said. “I was a rookie, I was just finishing up my rookie year. I didn’t know what to expect over there honestly. I just knew I wanted to play.”

Colangelo took over after that, vowing to put together a true team, rather than a collection of names without regard to how they fit. He said the team needed role players, and the original roster he selected included Bruce Bowen, Antawn Jamison, Shane Battier and Luke Ridnour ” good players, but not stars.

But when players like Bryant, Stoudemire, Chauncey Billups and Michael Redd couldn’t play, the team last summer was left too thin.

Colangelo added eight players to the roster this year to address its weaknesses, and told some of his original selections they could feel free to stay home because they wouldn’t make the team, anyway. The result is a better team on paper ” one Colangelo believes fits his vision.

“We added Tayshaun Prince, who’s an all-around kind of player, I wouldn’t put him in the superstar category,” Colangelo said. “Mike Miller, who’s another shooter, Tyson Chandler, who’s a rebounder, shot blocker, so we’re still looking for role players. Some of the names have changed, due to injuries, and so, the philosophy is still there.”

Colangelo most wanted veteran leadership in the backcourt, and he got that with Kidd, Bryant and Billups, among the seven U.S. players who were also here in February for the NBA All-Star game.

And James, who also remembers not being ready as a rookie in ’04, welcomes those additions.

“The guys that we added are very experienced,” James said. “We’ve got Jason Kidd, who’s been part of the world games before, and Amare was on the team in 2004, he’s coming back. And you got a little bit more experienced with Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups and Michael Redd and those guys.

“So it’s not like we’re adding younger guys. We’re adding guys that are very experienced, that’ve been in this league for a while that know how to play the game of basketball.”

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