Youth steps in for missing stars

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado – Carmelo Anthony and four other top young talents were officially named to the United States Olympic basketball team here yesterday to replace a host of star talent that will skip Athens. Anthony, who sparked a revival of the once-dormant Denver Nuggets, will play alongside his major National Basketball Association debut-season rival, league Rookie of the Year LeBron James, last year’s top NBA Draft selection. «It’s a great honor,» Anthony said. «I can’t tell you how excited I am. It has always been a dream of mine to play for my country in the Olympics and I plan on coming back with a gold medal.» Also named to the US squad seeking a fourth gold medal in a row were Miami’s Lamar Odom and Dwayne Wade, James’s Cleveland teammate Carlos Boozer and Emeka Okafor, taken second in last month’s NBA Draft by expansion Charlotte. «These five guys are the future of USA Basketball,» said Larry Brown, the US Olympic coach who guided the Detroit Pistons to the NBA title last month. «These are five great additions and based on their seasons they’ve earned the right to be on the team. Last summer’s qualifying team played as a team and I’m confident that this new group will help us continue to play the right way.» The lesser-known NBA talents replaced five stars who withdrew for personal reasons – two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady of Houston, New Jersey’s Jason Kidd, Sacramento’s Mike Bibby, Indiana’s Jermaine O’Neal and Los Angeles Lakers’ standout Karl Malone. Security was a spoken worry for many players, although most cited injuries, fatigue or family commitments for leaving something far less than a «Dream Team» lineup for Athens. Only San Antonio center Tim Duncan, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2002 and 2003, and Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson, the 2001 MVP, remain from the original «core» lineup named to the roster by USA Basketball. The rest of the lineup includes James, New Jersey’s Richard Jefferson, New York’s Stephon Marbury and Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudamire from Phoenix. «This team has the potential to be one of the most exciting and versatile teams that USA Basketball has ever assembled for the Olympics,» said Stu Jackson, USA Basketball national team committee chairman. «Our team’s youth, athleticism and skill level will give us an opportunity to perform well at the Olympic Games and hopefully return home with the gold medal.» The US team’s average age will be 23.6 years, the youngest US squad sent to an Olympics since 1988. No US team of NBA talent has lost an Olympic Game since the original 1992 «Dream Team.» But a US squad of less-than-elite players was a humbling sixth at the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis, losing three times. (AFP)