Anthony leads U.S. in scoring, keeping teammates committed

LAS VEGAS – Carmelo Anthony spent a few mostly miserable weeks riding the U.S. bench in the Olympics three years ago.

The only time he’s locked to the bench these days is during blowouts. More surprising is that he’s now the one who tells others to play for their country.

Anthony is the leading scorer on the U.S. team that was scheduled to play Uruguay on Wednesday night in the FIBA Americas tournament. Yet his biggest contribution to American basketball might not have been with a basketball in his hand.

It may have been with a telephone.

When LeBron James was thinking about not playing this summer – possibly jeopardizing his status for Beijing – it was Anthony who called and reminded him that he had already given his word to be in Las Vegas.

“He was probably the main reason why I came back here,” James said. “Just him being a good friend of mine and just having that camaraderie and just knowing that I’ve had years in the FIBA and he’s had years in the FIBA. So being able to pass the word along to some of the new guys that we were going to have, him being a good friend of mine, I thought it was important for me to get back here.”

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had required players picked for the national team roster to commit to playing three years. But James said during the season he was “50-50” to return this summer, preferring to rest his body and remain with his family, knowing his girlfriend was set to give birth in June.

Anthony wouldn’t hear of it, calling James both before and after the NBA finals.

“We committed already last year to three years,” Anthony said. “When I heard he was trying to back out and I called him and said, ‘There’s no way you can back out, we already committed. Let’s go get it, we got business to take care of.'”

Anthony said he made similar calls to Amare Stoudemire and Dwyane Wade, who also played with him in 2004, and told them: “Let’s just go and finish it out and at the end we’re going to like the results.”

Three years ago, Anthony would have seemed the last person who would tell anyone to go play in the Olympics. He was a late addition to the U.S. team at the end of his rookie season, but hardly played on the team that managed a bronze medal and now admits he wasn’t ready for the experience.

“I think that’s why it’s important to me,” Anthony said. “Knowing the experience I had in ’04, knowing what I wanted to do to redeem myself, to regain our spot where we belong at in the world.”

The Americans aren’t there yet, but Anthony’s evolution into a great international scorer is one of the reasons they have a chance.