Old man Odom skips resting, suits up again for US in hopes of winning gold

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Lamar Odom is an old man, at least when it comes to this U.S. basketball team.

He was reminded of that right from the first practice in New York, when he was so winded that he struggled to reach the rim shooting free throws.

While praising his leadership, coach Mike Krzyzewski and USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo acknowledge Odom isn't ready to play.

Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers, are sitting out the world championships after three straight trips to the NBA finals.

So why was Odom running around in a college gym Wednesday instead of getting the rest he needs?

"Because I was asked," he said, "and it's a huge compliment."

"The first thing I was able to tell Coach K and Mr. Colangelo (was) where my body was at and they understood. And they wanted something else from me and that was leadership. It takes a certain type of confidence, cockiness, humbleness, humility to be able to win games, championships. For them to have the faith in me that I have that, it was just something I couldn't say no to."

There's more to it, though. Odom suited up for the Americans during their disappointing performance in the 2004 Olympics and has wanted another chance to wear a USA uniform ever since, but was stopped by everything from tragedy to injury.

"He had a whole series of things that prevented him from playing. He always wanted to play, he was always committed to play," Colangelo said. "There wasn't a big sell here to be done with Lamar Odom. He wanted to play, he has wanted to play. He wasn't able to."

Odom finally has the opportunity, and even now at age 30, envisions himself being in London in 2012 — hopefully with a better result than the bronze medal from Athens.

"Opening ceremony of the Olympics is something I would love for my kids to be able to see," Odom said during an interview at Niketown. "That opportunity, you don't come across something like that, an opportunity I would say yes to every time."

He was selected to the original national team of players in 2006, but pulled out before training camp after the death of his 6½-month-old son while sleeping in his crib. Odom couldn't participate the following year after having surgery on his left shoulder.

But Colangelo went back to him for this pool, making Odom the only player from the original group to be invited back without ever appearing for the team from 2006-08.

"He's a great big. It will be huge for us," Denver point guard Chauncey Billups said. "He can talk on defense, pass the ball. His experience will be valuable for this team."

Billups, who will be 34 next month, is the only player older than Odom on a roster with five players that are 21. Besides being much younger, most of his teammates had much longer breaks than Odom, whose season didn't end until June 18.

He was back on the floor a month later at training camp in Las Vegas, and the world championships in Turkey start Aug. 28.

"A lot of these guys had a little bit more time off, so they were able to prepare for these games a little bit," Odom said. "But the games that count don't start until the 28th. They all count, but as far as the medal games, I'll work myself back into shape. Got enough time to do that."

Trying to squeeze in as much rest time as possible, Odom took the redeye to New York and didn't arrive until Tuesday morning, hours before the first workout. He wouldn't be relaxing much in his hometown, planning a trip after practice Wednesday to Queens to spend time with his two children.

Odom wasn't on the floor much while the Americans scrimmaged, but his playing time will likely increase next week when they head to Europe.

"He's got to use all these exhibitions to get into his game shape. He's not there, but he will be there. He's a pro and he's an NBA champion," Krzyzewski said. "The fact he's here is good, and just a matter of getting his legs under him."

Besides his experience, the Americans need Odom for his size. At 6-foot-10, he's one of the tallest players on the undersized roster and would perhaps even see time at center.

"He's been a great leader, been a great coach, teacher to me and all the guys that play his position," Kevin Durant said. "We're going to need that type of experience and knowledge, and his skill-set is rare, a guy 6-10 can bring the ball up, pass, shoot, get to the rim. We're going to need him."

Odom may not be the old man if he plays two years from now, when some of the 2008 Olympians could return. Colangelo said that was another strength of Odom, that he'd fit in no matter what type of team was around him.

"I'm a New Yorker. I'm from Queens, New York," Odom said. "You put me anywhere, you drop me off in the middle of any country in the world and I'll find my way around, find out how to get to the airport and then get back home."