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Veteran Anthony blossoms into leader of Team USA

At 32, Carmelo Anthony has become not just the heart, but the soul of American team seeking a third straight Olympic gold

POSTED: Aug 2, 2016 8:03 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury

NBA.com

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Postgame: Krzyzewski and Anthony

Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Carmelo Anthony talk with Jared Greenberg following Team USA's win over Nigeria.

— Some things never change.

Put the basketball into Carmelo Anthony's hands and it's like watching a bird fly, a fish swim.

He knows what to do and how to do it and, to listen to him after Team USA closed out its cruising-over-America tour Monday night and now heads off to Rio for his fourth Olympic Games, there's nothing new to see.

"I think (my role) is the same," Anthony said after his 19 points led the way in a 110-66 thumping of Nigeria. "I think it's to go out there to be myself and not be nobody else. Not try to do more than I have to. You do a little bit of a lot when it comes down to it. I feel comfortable in these situations, regardless of what type of game or style of play that these teams are going to bring to us. I think I've seen it all over all the years."

The leadership comes natural to me. ... It's genuine. It's nothing that I'm forcing myself to do. I do it every day all day.

– Carmelo Anthony

It's all that he's taken in with those eyes and all those miles that he's traveled wearing that national team uniform over the years that make him not just the heart, but the soul of this American bunch that will try to make it three straight Olympic golds.

A 20-year-old Anthony was there for the three-loss bronze bust of the 2004 Olympics in Athens that led to the total revamping of the USA Basketball program and he was there for the painful semifinal loss to Greece in the first year of the new regime at the 2006 World Championship in Japan.

Now that he's 32 and the de facto leader of a roster that consists of so many new faces to the whole international atmosphere, it's as if he has blossomed fully.

"The leadership comes natural to me," Anthony said. "People are putting a lot on it because the whole world is seeing it. For me, I do this every day. It's natural for me. It's genuine. It's nothing that I'm forcing myself to do. I do it every day all day. I'm the same person. I'm the same guy. Now it's just more visible to you (media) guys because you're seeing it a little more on my own team every season. There's more cameras in practice now. We have practice that's open and you guys have a chance to see how we react with one another. I think that's the difference. I think you guys are starting to see more of me doing that rather than all through the season."

While some of that may be true, there are signs even to some of his teammates that Anthony embraces the mantle of leader.

Melo Leader

An all-access look at how Carmelo Anthony is spreading his veteran wisdom in USA Basketball practice as he prepares to take part in his 4th Olympic Games.

"Oh, he's the guy that's been there so much before," said center DeMarcus Cousins. "We would all be foolish if we didn't go to him, learn from him, lean on him as we take on this challenge. He knows the ups and downs, the little differences from this kind of game to what we all play in the NBA and those can pay off for us as we go through this."

Some have suggested that Anthony is struggling to find a rhythm with his shot all through the exhibition tour. Even though he made 7-for-13 Monday night, it wasn't the 37 points in 14 1/2 minutes explosion that he dropped on Nigeria four years ago that included 10-for-12 sniping from behind the 3-point line.

"I set the bar too high," Anthony said, shaking his head.

Not too high, according to USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski, that he hasn't cleared it.

"Carmelo's been sensational really as a leader and as a player, too," Krzyzewski said. "This is his fourth Olympics and his fifth USA competition. For him to use his experience. He wants everyone to be good. He knows us. He knows the international game and everyone on the team respects him. I think he's been terrific. I thought he would be good and he's been better. Because he's a smart guy and he gets it."

I think he's been terrific. I thought he would be good and he's been better. Because he's a smart guy and he gets it.

– Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski

Spend thirteen seasons in the NBA, nine times an All-Star, a former scoring champ and respect for the sheer talent pours in. But all those years with Nuggets and Knicks teams that just haven't had enough around him and it chips away at the edges of the total picture. It's one more reason to understand why Kevin Durant chose to go to Golden State in order to get the most out of himself with players of similar ability and attitude.

Here's Anthony now in a role where he shines not only for what he can do, but who he can help everyone else be as they board the plane for South America.

"This is the exciting part," Anthony said. "Knowing that we are about to go to Rio, knowing we are about to lock into one location and we can focus on just playing basketball and getting better individually and as a group.

"Get there, get settled and have a couple days before we have the first game. Get those reps and get used to not just being in Brazil but being in the gyms over there. As a team, I think you'll see a much different team once we get these reps under us and feeling comfortable playing in Rio."

USA vs. Nigeria

Carmelo Anthony records 19 points and five rebounds, Klay Thompson adds 17 points as the United States defeats Nigeria.

"I actually feel excited about the journey we're about to take on. A new group of guys. A much younger group of guys. Before I was one of the young guys and now I'm one of the older guys on the team that has been around a couple of times. For me, knowing that we have an opportunity to do something special with a new group of guys, new faces of our country, to be a part of it, I'm excited about that."

"I think the whole experience has helped him, even playing-wise," said Krzyzewski. "His toughness is even better. We're lucky that he's with us."

Some things change, even they won't admit it.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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