LAS VEGAS – Chris Paul‘s gold medal from Beijing will be making the rounds during training camp and the run-up to London for the Olympics.
It’s a calculated move designed to motivate Paul more than anyone else. Since 10 of the 12 players on the roster already own gold medals of their own, from either Beijing or the 2010 World Championship in Turkey, there isn’t much need for any contrived motivational ploys from Paul or anyone else.
When asked how Olympic gold would compare to winning a NBA title, Paul was quick to remind us all that he has no basis for making such a comparison.
“I have mine to take on the trip with me just to remember it by,” Paul said. “There’s a lot of guys that can say they won a NBA championship but there are very few guys who can say they’ve ever won a gold medal.”
Paul wisely changed lanes when one reporter suggested he declare the U.S unbeatable in London, but he and all of the other players on the roster made it clear that this is a gold medal mission in every sense.
“You don’t go into this process thinking about anything else,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
LEADER OF THE PACK
While LeBron James and Kevin Durant come into this process as the two most decorated players on the roster, based on their most recent performances during the NBA season, Kobe Bryant remains this team’s elder statesman and clear leader in so many ways.
After the formal news conference announcing the team, the players retreated to an adjacent ballroom where they were seated at 12 different tables and interviewed by hundreds of reporters.
Bryant’s time in that setting was shorter than anyone else’s, he politely answered questions and then headed for the door. As he stood up, Russell Westbrook, whose station as next to Bryant’s, looked over and playfully asked why the Los Angeles Lakers star was allowed to exit before anyone else.
“You get that with 17 years in the game,” a smiling Bryant said as he cut through the door on his way out.
“I guess he is the OG on this team,” Westbrook mused. “You gotta respect that.”
With so many experienced players on the roster, Bryant probably won’t have to conduct daily lessons on the dos and don’ts of preparation for the Olympics.
But the competitive edge of this group will no doubt come from the man widely considered to be the most competitive player of his generation and one of the most relentless competitors the league has seen.
NOT DONE YET?
Eric Gordon, Rudy Gay and Anthony Davis didn’t make the cut for the 12-man roster but that doesn’t mean they are free from responsibility where this team is concerned.
If there injuries to any of the players on the roster they would serve as alternates and would replace an injured player up to the final 48 hours before the U.S. tips off in London, July 29 against France.
With the recent spate of injuries that has plagued this group, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo was very specific in his praise for the players who put themselves through the process and their abilities.
“If someone had projected the 12 names six or nine months ago it might have had a different look,” he said. “It’s a very versatile team that’s much more mature than they were in ’08. We think we’re deeper, we think we’re better.”
COLANGELO: COUSINS HAS TO GROW UP!
Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins is a young player who has the game and body type the U.S. won’t have at their disposal in London.
But the possibility that he would be included on the list of players as a possible injury replacement to the roster when Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh were forced to pull out of the mix due to injuries, didn’t seem likely after listening to Colangelo’s impression of Cousins. Cousins is not currently a part of the program, not even on the Select Team.
“He needs to mature as a person (and) as a player if he’s going to have an outstanding NBA career,” Colangelo said Saturday. ”Before there’s discussion about him being part of our program, he has a lot of building to do. … He has a lot of growing up to do.
CHAMP TO CHAMP!
The hottest ticket in town?
It didn’t have anything to do with USA Basketball after the sun went down here Saturday night.
That honor would belong to UFC 148, held at the MGM Grand and attended by James, who sat near the octagon as MMA living legend Anderson Silva topped Chael Sonnen with a second round TKO in a much-anticipated rematch before a sellout crowd.
THIRD TIME THE CHARM
James and Carmelo Anthony have the unique perspective of playing on their third Olympic team, giving them a better appreciation than some others for how meticulous you have to be in putting together a team that can handle its business during the competition.
It takes just the right blend of experience, youth, athleticism, drive and sacrifice. It’s something the star-studded U.S. team has had in surplus since Colangelo took over the responsibility of the program.
“The first team in ’04, we were put together really fast. The pieces didn’t fit right and it showed in our play,” James said. “In ’08, it was ‘The Redeem Team,’ and guys had committed to the Olympics for a long time. That’s why we were able to win that gold because we were all about that chemistry. It’s going to take some practices, it’s going to take some exhibition games, [but] we have a lot of guys in our prime and we have a lot of young guys and hungry guys who are always looking forward to a challenge.”