JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Slams and Dunks, Team USA edition:
The week's big surprise from Carmelo Anthony was not his gold-medal guarantee. Hardly. Anyone who follows 'Melo knows he came into the league with Hall of Fame self-confidence. If anyone on Team USA was going to promise success on Day 1, it figured to be Anthony.
The surprise, then?
It's simply how big 'Melo looks.
You'll see for yourself Saturday afternoon when Team USA's exhibition against Puerto Rico airs on ESPN at 1 p.m. Until then, trust us: 'Melo has bulked up nicely thanks to an off-season workout regiment that has taken his poundage into the 230s. He played closer to 220 as a rookie.
Now he looks like he's going to crush smaller defenders, internationally or domestically.
"Ten pounds of muscle," he said proudly.
Which means you can say one more thing to link 'Melo and LeBron James.
Neither one looks under 21.
Dean Smith was the guest of honor at Wednesday's morning practice, watching two of his protégés work: Larry Brown and assistant coach Roy Williams. Asked to react to former rival Mike Krzyzewski's recent flirtations with the Lakers, Smith said he was pleased to see Coach K stay at Duke.
With a caveat, naturally.
"They called Roy 10 days before -- I want to leave that clear," Smith said of the Lakers. "[Lakers general manager and former Tar Heel] Mitch Kupchak has asked Roy a couple times. Jerry [West] asked me. We're close to [the Lakers]. But [Krzyzewski] belongs in college. I think he will stay [at Duke], and should."
Argentina and Lithuania are bringing experience and cohesion to Athens, making those teams the biggest threats to 'Melo's guarantee.
The solace for the Yanks is that Serbia and Montenegro, which figured to be their No. 1 concern, looks like it won't have Peja Stojakovic, Vlade Divac, Zeljko Rebraca or even Darko Milicic, who's recovering from the broken hand he suffered late in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
Serbia and Montenegro opened its training camp on June 27. Stojakovic was apparently rebuffed in his request to delay joining the team until Aug. 2 and told he was no longer needed.
Divac has said repeatedly that the gold-medal victory over Argentina in the 2002 World Championships was his last international game, and the likely absence of Milicic and Rebraca rules out two prime Divac replacements.
Rebraca is a free agent still searching for a guaranteed contract next season, making him understandably reluctant to risk injury playing for his country. He auditioned for the Clippers last week and figures to be pursued now by Milwaukee after the Bucks' offer to restricted free agent Etan Thomas was matched Wednesday by Washington.
Of course, Serbia and Montenegro still has a deep player pool to pick from even without mainstays like Stojakovic and Divac. Dejan Bodiroga takes Divac's place as the team's veteran voice, and roster options with NBA ties include Vladimir Radmanovic, Peja Drobnjak, Zarko Cabarkapa, Aleksandar Pavlovic and recent draftees Nenad Krstic and Milos Vujanic.
Argentina? Expect to see plenty of San Antonio's Manu Ginobili and incoming Detroit swingman Carlos Delfino in the same backcourt, sharing the ballhandling. Frontcourt veterans Fabricio Oberto (my favorite; love his post moves), Luis Scola and Andres Nocioni will also be in Athens, along with former NBA point guard Pepe Sanchez.
On this team, at age 28, Tim Duncan qualifies as a graybeard. Somewhat appropriately, Duncan is presently sporting the longest patch of chin hair we've even seen from him, albeit with no traces of gray. Duncan, though, scoffed at the notion that the growth makes him feel like more of a veteran. "The beard is my summer statement," he said. "I just don't really feel like cutting my hair now."
After scrimmaging Puerto Rico on Thursday, Team USA will have another behind-closed-doors practice game Friday against New Zealand. Saturday's exhibition against Puerto Rico is the first real game for Brown's team.
Larry Brown knows now that LeBron wasn't kidding when the kid -- before winding up with the Cavs -- said he hoped Brown would be his first NBA coach. Before Team USA convened for training camp Sunday afternoon, a giddy LBJ called Brown more than once to talk about their forthcoming trip to the Olympics together.
"It's everything I thought it would be," James said of being coached by Brown. "I knew he was the general. He's the captain of the ship. He wants things done right, and if they're not, he's going to get it there. I like that in a coach."
Anthony's latest proclamation deals with the recent prediction in this cyberspace that the Nuggets will finish in the top four in the mighty West next season: "Anything less than that will be a failure."
'Melo did concede, however, that "even though the Godfather of the league went to Miami, the Western Conference is still going to be the Western Conference."
Quote of the Day comes from Anthony -- another big surprise -- after he ran through some of the universities he considered besides Syracuse & including Texas, his favorite college football team.
Asked whether Cal State Fullerton made it onto the top five of his recruiting ladder, 'Melo cracked: "They were No. 6."