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Sekou Smith

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The play of big men Tyson Chandler (left) and Kevin Love will be key on the 2012 Olympic stage.
Catherine Steenkeste/NBAE via Getty Images

USA's shot at new gold may rest on Love's old prediction


Posted Jul 27 2012 9:44AM

LONDON -- In the realm of outlandish predictions, the one Kevin Love made to Tyson Chandler nearly 12 years ago qualifies as, how would the locals say it ... "bold as brass."

Love was a sixth-grade ball boy at a the week-long Portland-area high school tournament, the Les Schawb Invatational, headlined by Chandler. A top-flight NBA prospect at Dominguez High in Compton, Calif., Chandler was only months away from being selected No. 2 overall in the 2001 Draft by the L.A. Clippers.

Love spent the entire week shadowing Chandler, telling the 7-footer that he'd be in his shoes one day -- an NBA player that kids idolized and begged for autographs.

"I followed him around the whole week, and I told him, 'you watch, I'm going to be right there with you one day in the NBA, you're going to want my autograph one day,' " Love said laughing at the memory in a Las Vegas hotel ballroom three weeks ago, the day the selections for the U.S. Men's Senior National Team were announced.

"It was pretty crazy, this kind of pudgy, oversized, sixth-grade, white boy from the suburbs in [Portland] Oregon talking like that ... it was crazy."

It was just crazy enough to come true. Chandler verified Love's recollection of those events from more than a decade ago, never forgetting the way that pudgy kid talked to him. "True story," Chandler said. "He was confident, even at that young age ... but probably a little crazy, too."

Crazy enough that Love and Chandler have joked about that chance encounter several times since then, the first time being when they met on the court as NBA players.

Crazy became reality three weeks ago when it became clear that Chandler and Love would have to serve as the low-post anchors for a U.S. Team set to defend its gold medal in an Olympic competition being shadowed by some history of its own, namely a team of NBA superstars that set off a global hoops revolution 20 years ago in Barcelona.

The comparisons will be made to the original 1992 Dream Team and this current compilation of stars -- led by reigning league and Finals MVP LeBron James, reigning and three-time NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant, and returning gold medal winners Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Deron Williams -- regardless, but only if this team wins gold here.

The original Dream Team set the bar high. It's not enough just to win gold, you have to do it with style. And make no mistake, this latest version of the Dream Team, or whatever anyone wants to call them, is the favorite to win gold here. That means there is no managing of expectations. They must either exceed them or suffer the same fate as all the rest and spend an eternity cast in the shadow of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and the rest of that cosmic constellation of stars.

"Their legacy is set, they paved the way for all of us to be here now," James said, dousing the firestorm Bryant's comments of two weeks ago created when he said the current U.S. team is better than the original Dream Team.

"We have to come out here and do what we do and bring that gold medal back home. That's all that we're focused on. We have to establish our own legacy and it starts by winning the gold."

For all of the flash that the U.S. Team's biggest stars will provide in this competition, and there should be plenty when they tip off the competition in a preliminary round game Sunday morning against France, it's the big men (or the lack thereof) that remain the key.

With members of the team that won gold in Beijing dropping almost daily due to injuries and the overall big man ranks thinning faster and faster, Love's bold claim morphed into a fulfilled prophecy.

Yet there was no guarantee either Chandler or Love would be on this team, despite their stellar work on the U.S. Team that won gold at the World Championship in Turkey in 2010.

Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Lamar Odom and LaMarcus Aldridge were all on the National Team roster before injuries sidelined them. In Odom's case, he passed to prepare himself properly for the 2012-13 NBA season. Blake Griffin made the cut, but went down with a torn meniscus during a training camp practice in Las Vegas and was replaced by rookie and No. 1 overall Draft pick Anthony Davis.

There are plenty of skeptics who think that Spain (with All-Stars Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and shotblocker Serge Ibaka) and Brazil (with Nene, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter) have frontcourt contingents capable of outplaying their U.S. (and NBA) counterparts in this competition, making the U.S. Team ripe for an upset after they've gone unblemished in international competition since Beijing.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo is a believer in this team as assembled. He's never wavered in his belief in the program he's helped build back into the world's best or the specific components that comprise the U.S. National Team roster.

He insists this summer's team has some inherent advantages over the 2008 team already.

"The camaraderie. The physicalness of a team that is four years older. They're just much more mature than they were, and they've filled out so well -- LeBron, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe, Chris Paul, Deron Williams," Colangelo said. "Plus the good, young players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. When you add the role players -- a guy like Tyson Chandler -- it's a group that blends well together."

While previous teams lacked in cohesion, understanding of the dynamics of the program or the challenges ahead, this team does not.

"There's a mutual respect for a common good," Colangelo said. "They've committed themselves to being teammates. It's all about the three letters on the front of the jersey. That competition of the NBA season is left on the shelf. From our first meeting, in talking about the team concept, we didn't have to start from scratch with this group. Not with 10 gold medalists out of the 12 players. These guys have been through our program with the Olympics and 2010 world championships. They get it."

That doesn't change the fact that Chandler is the only true center on the roster and that foul trouble often kept him off the court during the five exhibition games. Love and Davis didn't play big minutes, either. U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski opted for smaller and quicker lineups to counteract the lack of size and depth in the paint, lineups he was tinkering with in training camp practices from the start.

Krzyzewski was tired of talking about it before the team left Las Vegas and hasn't changed his stripes since then. He'd much rather discuss what this team has in surplus that no foe can match.

"The quickness of this team, this is the quickest team I've ever coached, including U.S. teams," Krzyzewski said. "We have to build on that. Instead of talking about the fact that we don't have many centers -- it would different if we had Dwight and Chris Bosh. We'd play a little bit differently. We don't, so we have to rely on our strength, which is versatility, quickness, speed. But our guys are big."

Chandler, Love and Davis think so.

It would make fulfilling Love's vow from years ago that much sweeter if he, Chandler and Davis were to play an integral role in helping the U.S. win gold in what could very well be the last Olympics for not only Krzyzewski, but also for Bryant, James, Anthony, Paul, Williams and Chandler.

"People that know me know that I'm a pretty self-assured guy," said Love, a two-time All-Star and one of the best and brightest young power forwards in the game. "I always thought I was going to make it. And you feel like at 12 years old, there are definitely a lot of kids that feel that way. But I was just really confident in myself, even then."

Bold as brass, indeed.

And all these years later, good enough for gold ...

"Like very other [Olympic team] that's been put together, everybody has their own egos and their own swagger," Love said, "but we've found a way to bring it all together and push it forward as a team and as a unit, and that's why I think this could really be a something special for all of us."

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of NBA.com's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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