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Rio Olympics: Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony embracing leadership role for Team USA in quest for third gold medal

Carmelo Anthony of the United States speaks with

Carmelo Anthony of the United States speaks with the media during a press conference at the Main Press Centre ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on Aug. 4, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Credit: Getty Images / Chris Graythen

Carmelo Anthony could have followed the paths of his closest NBA friends, LeBron James and Chris Paul, and skipped the Olympics. But Anthony saw an opportunity to be a leader for this team and do something no men’s basketball player has ever done.

Anthony is all in for Team USA and will go for a record third Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro. “I have a chance to do something special here,” he said.

Spain, Lithuania, France and Serbia are among the teams that will challenge the U.S. squad, which is laden with All-Stars, but not the crème de la crème.

No James or Paul. No Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook. No James Harden or Damian Lillard. But Anthony — 32 and the elder statesman on the team — is on the team, as he has been since 2004. He again is seeking the kind of team success he craves with the Knicks, who missed the playoffs the past three years.

“I get a chance to go out there, kind of be the leader of the team, lead these guys,” Anthony said. “To me, it’s about going over there and having fun, getting that fun feeling back and enjoyment back — and trying to get another gold medal.”

Anthony helped the USA win gold in 2008 and 2012. He will be the first men’s basketball player to appear in four Olympics and hopes to be the first to win gold three times. That was a determining factor in Anthony’s decision to play.

Anthony was waffling after his friends backed out and because of concerns regarding the outbreak of the Zika virus in Rio. But his Olympic teammates, including Kevin Durant and Kyle Lowry, and Anthony’s college coach, Jim Boeheim, a Team USA assistant, reached out and urged him to play.

“The guys were talking, ‘Man, you should do it. This is your Olympics. This is your time: four Olympics, three gold medals. You should take advantage of this opportunity,’ ” Anthony said. “Once the guys started reaching out and telling me that, it felt good to hear my colleagues want me to have that experience.”

Anthony has embraced the role as leader, following in the footsteps of Jason Kidd and Kobe Bryant. Everyone associated with the U.S. team has talked about how Anthony is the unquestioned leader. He addressed the team before Olympic training camp began in Las Vegas and stressed how much work it will take to bring home the gold.

“My message to the guys was that this is not going to be easy,” Anthony said. “You can’t expect that because we’re the best players in the world, we’re going to win the gold medal. We should win the gold medal, but we have a lot of work to do.”

Anthony and Durant are the only players returning from the 2012 team that won gold in London. The rest of the roster consists of Lowry, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan, Draymond Green, Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Harrison Barnes and big men DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan.

Anthony called it “a new era,” but it’s also the end of one. He said this will be his final Olympics. It’s also the last for coach Mike Krzyzewski, who will be succeeded by Gregg Popovich.

“They’ll come together,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re really outstanding players. Each team has its own personality that we’ve coached for the United States. This one I think has the capability of being as good a defensive team as we’ve had because we have a lot of interchangeable parts.”

Managing director Jerry Colangelo said versatility is the team’s strongest point. “We have a number of guys who can play two, three positions,” he said. “We have a lot of length. We have a lot of size. If you look at our prior teams, we never really had a couple of centers like we have. We should be very strong defensively, maybe our best defensive team.”

Colangelo didn’t want to talk about who isn’t on the team, but he’s happy that Anthony committed for a final time and hopes it ends with him wearing gold again.

Said Colangelo, “It’s important to Carmelo because he knows this is something that no one else has done. For me, it’s kind of ironic that back in ‘05 when I took the reins of USA basketball, the first player I spoke to was Carmelo. Fast-forward the clock: He’s the last one standing. I’m happy for him.”

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