by Brian Mahoney
AP Basketball Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP)—LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and three other Olympic gold medalists were already back.
Add a defensive stopper, a potent scorer off the bench, and one of the NBA’s most explosive athletes, and the U.S. is certain it has a powerful Olympic basketball team. Better even than the one that won gold four years ago.
“We feel like we’re definitely a great team. We have all the pieces that we need,” forward Carmelo Anthony said. “We’ve got to put it together, but we feel like we’re the best team out there.”
The Americans rounded out their roster Saturday, adding Blake Griffin, Andre Iguodala and James Harden to the nine players who already seemed secure long before training camp began.
They earned the final three spots that opened after a rash of injuries knocked out at least four players who would have been on the team. They beat out Eric Gordon, Rudy Gay and No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis of New Orleans, who couldn’t scrimmage this week because of a sprained ankle.
Also heading to London for the defending gold medalists are: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love.
The Americans never had a close game four years ago until the championship game, when they pulled away in the final two minutes to beat Spain 118-107. Even with Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh unable to return from that team, the Americans think this one can be even stronger.
“When I think about ’08, we were really good then. But like me, LeBron and D-Will, all of us talk about, you’ve got to think about how much better all of us are now than we were in ’08,” Paul said. “All of us as players, we shoot the ball better. Guys are more athletic, guys are more confident. One through 12, no question we’re deeper than we were in ’08.”
USA Basketball Jerry Colangelo acknowledged the adversity the team faced with all the injuries in his remarks before the players were introduced during a press conference, all wearing their white USA jerseys—James and Anthony even looking game-ready in white headbands.
“But as the dust settles, I’m proud to say that we’ve put together in my opinion a terrific team with great athleticism and great versatility and we believe we’re going to be successful,” Colangelo said.
Griffin showed he was healthy again after being slowed by a knee injury during the playoffs, putting on an impressive dunking display following practice Saturday. Harden, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year with Oklahoma City, gives the Americans more scoring punch off the bench, and Iguodala is a defensive specialist who can guard multiple positions.
James, Bryant, Anthony, Paul and Williams were all part of the 2008 Olympic gold medalists. Durant, Westbrook, Chandler and Love also played on the world championship team two years ago.
Colangelo said he believed this team was deeper and better than the ’08 squad, but added that “only time will tell.”
The injuries leave the Americans short-handed at center, where Howard started four years ago in Beijing and Bosh backed him up. Chandler is the only natural center left, so the Americans will be forced to use some players out of their normal NBA positions.
But what remains is still the most athletic team in the world, with potent scorers at nearly every spot, and the Americans will look to overcome any size disadvantage by punishing teams in transition. Griffin said expects to be strictly at the center spot.
The Americans opened training camp Friday and will practice here through next Wednesday, then play an exhibition game against the Dominican Republic on Thursday.
James and Anthony will be playing in their third Olympics for a U.S. team with an average age is 26.1 years. The young guys, combined with the veteran returnees, could make for a golden mixture.
“I think we have guys on the team that’s definitely hungry at this point, especially young guys that want to go out and prove themselves,” Anthony said. “They’ve been showing that over the last couple of days in practice. What we put together in ’08, we will never duplicate that again. But this is a new team, this is a new situation and this team wants to form their own identity.”