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USA Basketball men’s Olympic team arrives for camp in Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — There’s something that Kobe Bryant once said that has stuck with U.S. men’s Olympic basketball coach Steve Kerr and seems especially important now.

It was about how other nations have made big strides in basketball, how the gap between the rest of the world and the U.S. is closing and how that’s been a great thing for the NBA. And Bryant’s response, paraphrased, was basically, “so what?”

His point: If everyone else is getting better, then the U.S. better find ways to do the same.

“Maybe we’ll show that one to the guys,” Kerr said. “I love that. And it has to be our attitude this summer.”

After months of planning, it’s time for the U.S. Olympic team — one that will go to the Paris Games later this month seeking a fifth consecutive gold medal — to take the floor. The first practice for the squad is Saturday, the start of a four-day training camp before its exhibition opener against Canada on Wednesday.

Players began arriving Thursday in Las Vegas; Stephen Curry was the first to check in for camp, perhaps underscoring how anxious he is for what will be his first Olympics. The 12 players have all known each other for years, but the task of becoming a team starts in earnest Saturday.

“I feel like it starts when it gets there, because that’s when you really see each other eye-to-eye,” said Bam Adebayo, who is seeking his second gold medal after winning one at the Tokyo Games three years ago. “You have those conversations, you have those many conversations within what we’re going through, what we’re trying to do. And that’s when it’s time to really be honest about what we want to do.”

That part is easy: Win gold.

The how-to-do-it part, that’s the key.

Last year brought another humbling World Cup experience for the U.S.; after finishing seventh in 2019, the Americans were fourth at Manila. But the argument — or justification, for lack of a better word — for those stumbles was that the U.S. wasn’t sending the best possible roster to those tournaments. Getting the big names like Kevin Durant and LeBron James for the Olympics, that’s one thing. Getting them for the World Cup and asking them to represent their country in back-to-back summers, that’s something else.

Tyrese Haliburton and Anthony Edwards were on that World Cup team last summer and were picked for this Olympic team as well.

“Obviously, last year we didn’t do what we wanted to do,” Haliburton said. “And that was frustrating because any time you get to represent USA Basketball, the expectation is to win. And we weren’t able to do that.”

This team was put together with a very different ending in mind. James is back on the Olympic team for the first time since 2012 and seeking a third gold, Durant is going for what would be a men’s Olympic record fourth basketball gold, and five other players — Adebayo, Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday, Jayson Tatum and Anthony Davis — each have one. The first-time Olympians are Haliburton, Edwards, Curry, Kawhi Leonard and Joel Embiid, someone who the U.S. convinced to play despite a strong push by France for the Philadelphia star to represent the host nation in Paris.

As far as choosing a starting lineup, good luck.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Kerr said. “I’m guessing that all 12 players on this roster will be in the Hall of Fame someday. So, how do you pick five out of 12? The idea is, you find combinations that click, and you find two-way lineups that can be effective at both ends. Our big job in Las Vegas is to find five-man combinations that fit and to just ask all 12 guys to fully commit to the goal of winning a gold medal no matter what it looks like, no matter who’s playing.”

The Americans play their first exhibition against Canada in Las Vegas, then have games at Abu Dhabi (against Australia and Serbia) and London (against South Sudan and Germany) before the Paris Games start. The U.S. opens Olympic play July 28 against Serbia and will also have group games against South Sudan and the winner of Sunday’s qualifier in Puerto Rico — either Mexico, Lithuania, Italy or Puerto Rico.

“We’ve got 39 days or so to get locked in to go get this gold medal, 12 amazing, talented guys ready to come together for one goal,” Curry said when he arrived to check in for camp. “I’m hyped for it all.”


AP Summer Olympics:

AP Basketball Writer