A loaded U.S. men's basketball team will arrive for the London Olympics intent on defending the gold medal captured by the so-called "Redeem Team" four years ago in Beijing.
After a disappointing bronze medal finish at the 2004 Athens Olympics, USA Basketball set off in a new direction, tabbing Jerry Colangelo, the respected former Phoenix Suns chairman and CEO, as managing director of the USA Men's Senior National Team program.
Colangelo preached continuity and focus and snared legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. The results have been perfect, including an undefeated gold medal run in Beijing that culminated with a thrilling 118-107 victory over Spain in a game Krzyzewski called "one of the great games in international basketball history." That was soon followed by another gold medal performance at the 2010 World Championships in Istanbul.
A number of players from that '08 gold medal team will be back in London for the U.S., including reigning NBA MVP LeBron James, who is fresh off winning his first championship with the Miami Heat.
In fact James and Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony made the Olympic team for a third straight time as the only holdovers from the 2004 bronze medal team in Athens.
Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, the Clippers' Chris Paul as well as New Jersey's Deron Williams will also be back from the '08 bunch that won gold in Beijing four years ago.
"We know what's at stake," said Bryant. "So come Olympic time we're going to be ready to go and we're going to bring the gold medal back to the U.S."
"I'm looking forward to it," Williams added. "The first go around was really special winning the gold medal. I look forward to this opportunity. Representing my country, putting on the USA jersey and getting a chance to go out there and compete. Playing with these types of guys is a twice in a lifetime opportunity."
The U.S. is a little beaten up, however, and stalwarts from the '08 team like Dwight Howard of the Magic (back surgery) and James' Heat teammates, Dwyane Wade (knee surgery) and Chris Bosh (torn abdominal muscle), won't be available for Krzyzewski this time.
Nor will Chicago's Derrick Rose, the 2010-11 NBA MVP, who tore his ACL in this year's NBA postseason or the Clippers' Blake Griffin, who was forced to withdraw from the team after suffering a meniscus tear in his left knee during practice for the U.S. team on July 11.
Krzyzewski still has plenty of ammunition to complement his veterans, starting with James' foil in the NBA Finals, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, the NBA's scoring champion for the past three seasons. Two of Durant's teammates from the Western Conference-champion Thunder, guards Russell Westbrook and James Harden, are also on the team.
Knicks center Tyson Chandler, 76ers swingman Andre Iguodala, Timberwolves forward Kevin Love and New Orleans rookie Anthony Davis, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and Griffin's replacement, round out a roster which Colangelo said fit with the gameplan to have athletic, versatile players and a deep bench.
Durant, Westbrook, Chandler, Iguodala and Love were all part of the 2010 World Championship team, while Harden and Davis are first-timers on the national squad.
Hall of Fame Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, Mike D'Antoni, formerly a head coach in New York and Phoenix, as well as Nate McMillan, the former mentor in both Seattle and Portland will serve as assistant coaches.
There will be a lot of pressure for this team to match what the "Redeem Team" accomplished in China but James thinks they have the ammunition.
"We have some guys that can help pick that up," James said. "Wade was our leading scorer, but we didn't have Kevin Durant on our team. We didn't have Tyson Chandler on our team as well and the athleticism at the point guard position. We have some players who can do so many great things. On the floor we have athletic guys as well."
"I think it can (match the 2008 team) but at the end of the day I don't think it really matters," the Clippers All-Star said. "It's all about winning the gold medal. We can't freeze time and play against the '08 team. The reason why I think this team will be better is we are a little more versatile but a bigger part of it is that all of us are much better than we were in '08."
As usual the U.S. will take a well-balanced team to the Olympics and is the favorite to take home the gold. James, Bryant and Durant may be the three best basketball players in the world while Paul, Williams and Westbrook are all elite point guards.
Chandler is the team's only true center, but is an imposing defensive specialist and will get plenty of help on the boards and in the low post from Love.
"He understands who he is," Krzyzewski said of Chandler. "He doesn't try to be anybody else. So, he is our center, he rebounds, he plays defense on the five, he runs the court, he is going to set a lot of screens, and he loves doing all of those things."
Anthony is a prodigious scorer while Iguodala is regarded as a lockdown perimeter defender and Harden is adept at coming off the bench as evidenced by his NBA Sixth Man of the Year award.
"[Anthony] has been as committed as anyone in our country to USA Basketball. He's been doing this for almost 10 years. That's pretty good commitment," Krzyzewski said. "Carmelo, in international play, can play three positions, and on our team he's not married to one position. So, anytime down the court, he can be in different spots."
There are 12 men's teams that will compete in London. They are divided into two groups, with the first four teams in each group qualifying for the quarterfinals.
The Americans landed in Group A for the Olympics along with Argentina, France, Tunisia, Lithuania and Nigeria. Their first game is July 29 against France. Group B will consist of Australia, Brazil, China, Great Britain, Spain and Russia.
There are many NBA stars competing for the international clubs with Spain looking very imposing again thanks to All-Star brothers Pau and Marc Gasol, as well as Serge Ibaka, who finished second to Chandler in the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year voting, Toronto point guard Jose Calderon and former NBA sharpshooter Rudy Fernandez.
San Antonio's Manu Ginobili will try to lead Argentina to its second gold medal and its first since 2004 with the help of the Rockets' Luis Scola, and former NBA contributors Andres Nocioni and Carlos Delfino.
France is also loaded with San Antonio All-Star point guard Tony Parker as well and the up-and-coming Portland forward Nicolas Batum, Washington's Kevin Seraphin, Ronny Turiaf, who finished last season with the Heat, and Parker's Spurs teammate Boris Diaw.
Other top contenders figure to be Brazil, which sports an impressive triumvirate of Cavs defensive stalwart Anderson Varejao as well as Washington's Nene and the Spurs' Tiago Splitter; along with Russia, which could also prove to be quite a hurdle thanks to former Jazz All-Star Andrei Kirilenko as well as Nuggets big man Timofey Mozgov and former New Jersey first round pick Viktor Khryapa.
Chicago All-Star Luol Deng headlines for the host nation and Lithuania sports Toronto's Linas Kleiza as well as former NBAer Darius Songalia. Former Spur Ike Diogu and the Hornets' Al-Farouq Aminu highlight Nigeria's squad while former NBA players Patrick Mills and David Andersen are the big names for Australia.
Preliminary round play for the men takes place from July 29 to Aug. 6. The men's Olympic quarterfinals action is scheduled for August 8, semifinals play is slated for August 10, and the gold and bronze medal games will be played on August 12.
The U.S. women's team is also favored to capture gold in London after winning each of the last four Olympic gold medals. In fact, the USA women's Olympic winning streak is 33 and dates from the 1992 bronze medal game through the 2008 gold medal game.
In the past 15 years, the Americans have posted a gaudy 72-1 slate in major international competitions, also winning three FIBA World Championship golds (1998, 2002, 2010), one FIBA World Championship bronze medal (2006) and one FIBA Americas Championship gold medal (2007).
Two-time Olympic gold medalists Diana Taurasi of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm and Indiana's Tamika Catchings headline a talented team this time around.
Los Angeles' Candace Parker, Minnesota's Seimone Augustus, Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry, Chicago's Swin Cash and Sylvia Fowles, and Connecticut's Tina Charles join Catchings in the frontcourt while Taurasi and Bird will team up with Minnesota's Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore to give the U.S. a formidable backcourt.
The U.S. women open its Olympic play in Pool A on July 28 against Croatia. Angola, China, the Czech Republic and Turkey round out Pool A while Pool B consists of Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Great Britain and Russia.