Olympic team finalists has LA feel

BY foxsports • January 16, 2012

In his brief NBA career, Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin has won an All-Star slam dunk title, a Rookie of the Year award and considerable attention a rising star with limitless potential. What he doesn't have is international experience or an Olympic gold medal.

It's possible he could get both this summer in London. Griffin and teammates Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups were among 20 finalists chosen Monday for the US Olympic men's basketball team.

"It's an honor for me and I hope I get a chance to play," Griffin said. "There's a lot of guys who deserve to be on that team, so it's definitely an honor to be in that group. But I've still got a season to worry about first."

The final roster will be picked in June.

Griffin, 22, was added to the national team roster and is the youngest player who will compete for a spot on the 12-man roster going to London in July.

"He's showing what kind of future he has," USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said of Griffin, who ranks among the league leaders in scoring and rebounding. "I have no doubt that, going forward, Blake will have a significant impact on USA Basketball, if not now, then certainly in the future."

The pool of finalists has a distinct LA feel. Also selected were Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, former Lakers forward Lamar Odom, former Clippers guard Eric Gordon and former UCLA stars Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City) and Kevin Love (Minnesota).

The Clippers and the Miami Heat, with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, were the only teams with as many as three players on the list. Other finalists are Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City, Derrick Rose of Chicago, Dwight Howard of Orlando, Andre Iguodala of Philadelphia, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler of New York, LaMarcus Aldridge of Portland, Rudy Gay of Memphis and Deron Williams of New Jersey.

Odom was traded by the Lakers to the Dallas Mavericks, and Gordon was sent to the New Orleans Hornets in the Paul trade.

"This will be the most talented of the three teams I've had the opportunity to coach," said national team coach Mike Krzyzewski, who guided the US team to gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 World Championships in Turkey. "One is that we'll have a combination of the two championship teams, but also, they're all older. They're better. A number of them are at the prime time of their careers."

Paul was a member of the Olympic team in Beijing, and Billups played on the World Championships team. Bryant was an integral player on the 2008 Olympics team.

If Griffin is among the final 12, it will mark his first opportunity to play on an international stage.

"Chris (Paul) was on the Olympic team and I've talked to Coach K, and the common theme among all that is the pride you have playing for your country," Griffin said. "It's much, much bigger than yourself. That's why it's special."

By contrast, Anthony has 59 international games, James 55 and Williams 47.

Although Bryant has been playing with a torn ligament in his shooting hand, Krzyzewski said he was confident the Lakers star, who has a string of four consecutive 40-point games, intends to play.

"Kobe really wants to be in London," he said in a conference call with reporters. "Depending on the injury, that'll be his choice, but it would have to be something very, very serious because he has a number of years still left. But I know he would want another Olympic championship.

"He's about championships. We need him because of that mentality and to be one of the leaders for our team."

Of the 20 finalists, eight were on the 2008 team: Bryant, Paul, James, Wade, Bosh, Anthony, Howard and Williams. Returning from the world championship team are Durant, Rose, Chandler, Gordon, Gay, Love, Odom, Westbrook, Iguidala and Billups.

"It's a great honor; an awesome honor," Billups said. :It's one of the last goals I have in my career. One of my dreams has always been to play in the Olympics, and being a finalist is definitely an honor. There's some great guys on that list. We'll see how it goes.

Billups added:"Jerry Colangelo and USA Basketball care a lot about the brand of USA Basketball and how you represent it, and you see that in the guys they pick."

Not included on the list was Lakers center Andrew Bynum, although Colangelo said all available players were considered.

"Players are left off that one might say should have been considered," he said. "Trust me, they've all been considered. We put a great deal of emphasis on a word I've used a lot, and that's equity. Those who have put in time with USA Basketball earn that equity."

Clippers vice president of basketball operations Neil Olshey said, "We're really proud and happy to have our guys involved. I'm confident that they'll enjoy the experience if they make it and come back as even better players. We're all for them participating because I've never heard of someone playing for Team USA who didn't benefit from it."


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