Blake Griffin added to USA Olympic pool
This U.S. basketball team might be even better than the last two that won gold medals.
"This will be the most talented of the three teams that I've had the opportunity to coach," coach Mike Krzyzewski said Monday during a conference call.
The Americans announced the 20 players who will be candidates for the London Games, adding Blake Griffin of the Clippers and LaMarcus Aldridge of Portland to the 18 holdovers from either the 2008 Olympics or 2010 world championship who have said they wish to be considered again.
The 12-man roster and alternates for the Olympics will be chosen from the new player pool in June.
Returning from the team that won gold in Beijing are: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Back from the reigning world champions are: Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Tyson Chandler, Eric Gordon, Rudy Gay, Kevin Love, Lamar Odom, Chauncey Billups, Russell Westbrook and Andre Iguodala.
"I like the fact that we have a roster full of guys who've been champions, either in the Olympics or world championships, and guys who are excited to play," Krzyzewski said.
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo had planned to add Griffin to the national team roster in 2009, but he was hurt shortly after being selected with the No. 1 overall pick and those plans were scrapped. Aldridge was on the national team roster but withdrew from consideration for the 2010 worlds for personal reasons.
But both have a shot now if the Americans decide to bolster the frontcourt on a roster loaded with point guards and wing players. And it's an experienced group, with Anthony playing in 59 games for the U.S. and James 55.
"To be on that list, I'm honored again, to be able to represent my country at the highest level. I mean, it's an unbelievable class. We've got an unbelievable group coming in and I'm looking forward to it," James said.
The final roster of 12 players and six alternates is due June 18, before the NBA finals will be completed in this lockout-delayed season, so there will be no time for a tryout camp. But USA Basketball needed to submit the list of all candidates by the end of this month so they could be entered in the drug-testing program.
The Americans will have to decide how many point guards to keep from a list that includes Rose, the NBA MVP, Paul; Williams, Westbrook and Billups -- though he started at shooting guard in Istanbul, as he does now playing alongside Paul on the Clippers.
Size could be a consideration for a potential matchup against a Spain team that boasts Pau and Marc Gasol, along with Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka, which could help the two newcomers. Colangelo said Aldridge is a versatile big man who can shoot from the perimeter, and he sounds just as excited about Griffin as the many fans of his astounding dunks.
"He's showing what kind of future he has and I have no doubt that going forward Blake will have a significant impact on USA basketball, if not now than certainly in the future," Colangelo said.
Colangelo said the Americans decided to tab 20 players, rather than the 18 that were originally expected, to protect themselves in case some players aren't available when training camp opens. The Americans will start practicing July 6, before a free agency class that could be headlined by Howard and Williams will be able to sign contracts.
But Howard said his status wouldn't be a factor.
"I talked to Jerry a couple of days ago and I told him that I'm committed to being on the team and looking forward to winning another gold medal for the U.S. So nothing else matters," Howard said.
Whichever players are picked, the Americans will again have the unmatched athleticism that allowed them to end an eight-year Olympic gold-medal drought in Beijing and a 16-year absence from the gold-medal podium in the world championship two years ago.
Colangelo assembled the original national team roster in 2005 after taking control of the USA Basketball program following the Americans' poor performance a year earlier in Athens, where they managed only a bronze medal. That group committed to representing the Americans for three years, but then all the players and the entire coaching staff signed on for a return after winning gold in 2008.
None of those players competed in 2010, but the Americans won anyway with a young team led by Durant, the MVP of the world championships. Colangelo then combined the best of both rosters for the new pool.
Jason Kidd was the only former gold medalist on the squad when Colangelo formed the program. Now there are 18 in the mix to wear red, white and blue this summer.
"Things are moving smoothly and the proof of that pudding is we are loaded in terms of our pipeline," Colangelo said.
Only Kidd, who retired from international competition following a long career, Carlos Boozer, Tayshaun Prince and Michael Redd weren't chosen from the 2008 team. Stephen Curry and Danny Granger aren't back from 2010.
Nor was Amare Stoudemire named after he was forced to pull out on the eve of U.S. practices in 2010 because his contract couldn't be insured. He wasn't aware if insurance was the reason he was bypassed this time, saying he wasn't even aware the roster was being announced.
"It's definitely not my choice. I would love to play. My loyalty is with USA Basketball, as it always has been," Stoudemire said. "Last year I couldn't play because I had pulled out, but if they want me to play, I'd be totally open to representing the USA."