JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- With little prodding, Carmelo Anthony made a bold statement on his first day of practice with the U.S. Olympic basketball team.
"We're guaranteeing a gold medal. We're bringing it back," Anthony predicted.
That statement might be viewed as a youthful indiscretion coming from a player who just turned 20 and is about to embark on a journey with the youngest (average age, 23.6) U.S. team since the
Americans started sending pros to the Olympics in 1992.
It also seemed at odds with one of the main messages the American coaching staff tried to get across at the team's welcome dinner Sunday night: Respect the competition.
"That's just a young kid saying that," coach Larry Brown said. "But as long as he respects the people we're playing against and understands how good they've got, I don't have any problem with that."
The Denver star was asked how he thought his guarantee would be received by other teams in the Olympics, including three that defeated the Americans two years ago at the World Championships.
"I guess that's going to make the games more fun," Anthony said. "Right now, teams are not scared of us no more. Why not hype the games up? It's the Olympics. We're having fun, man. We've got to go over there and win."
Brown is holding two-a-day practices Monday and Tuesday in an effort to get the players acquainted with one another. Only three of them, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan and Richard Jefferson, remain
from the U.S. team that won the Tournament of the Americas last summer to qualify for a spot in the 12-team Athens field.
"We've got a lot of teaching to do. If we would have had the nucleus of the guys from last summer, that wouldn't have been necessary," said Brown, who also lamented a shortage of
From the looks of things Monday during a portion of practice that was open to the media, Brown has plenty of work ahead to get his team to conform to his mantra of "playing the right way."
"One pass and a shot, we can't do that!" Brown yelled at Amare Stoudemire after he clanged a mid-range jumper early in a possession during a four-on-four drill.
"I've got to reprogram you guys!" Brown later yelled, unhappy with the level of intensity he was seeing on the defensive end.
"If Allen [Iverson] makes a free throw you don't have to run," Brown offered.
One clanged foul shot later, it was wind sprints for everyone.
Iverson, named a co-captain along with Tim Duncan, screamed at himself when he missed the pressure shot. It was not the type of leadership moment that the team's oldest member (29) wanted to show his teammates and the man who coached him for six seasons in
"I never know how much something means to me until it's gone, and that's how I am with coach Brown," Iverson said.
One of the challenges for the coaching staff will be educating the youngsters about the intricacies of international basketball. After the players responded with shock to a foul call, Popovich took it as an opportunity to impart a lesson: The quality and objectivity of the refereeing will not be what these players are accustomed to in the NBA.
"Let's assume I just made the worst call in America," Popovich told the team. "Get used to it."