New “All-Star” team for USA hoops

LAS VEGAS – Jerry Colangelo insists he was not out to build a team of All-Stars when he created the USA Basketball national team program.

But maybe an All-Star team is exactly what the United States needed.

The Americans brought a strong one into their FIBA Americas tournament opener Wednesday night against Venezuela, one that looked more like the dominant U.S. teams of the 1990s than the ones who struggled so much in this decade.

Carmelo Anthony was on U.S. teams that managed only bronze medals in their past two events, and likes the way this one stacks up.

“I think it’s better than both teams just because we have more experience now,” he said. “We have guys who have been in situations, tough situations. Even though we lost last year, I think we took a step further toward where we want to be at.”

Or, where the Americans used to be.

When the United States starting using professional players for international events with the Dream Team in 1992, it was usually top pros. Players such as Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen all made multiple appearances in USA uniforms during the ’90s.

The expected U.S. starting five in this tournament of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Anthony, Jason Kidd and either Amare Stoudemire or Dwight Howard are all players who someday could join their predecessors in the Hall of Fame.

“All those guys playing at once like they did in 1992, the first Dream Team, we just haven’t had that opportunity to put all those guys together,” Kidd said. “But this team is just as talented as any team that’s been put together and we look forward to the challenge.”

Top NBA players started blowing off international play after the 2000 Olympics, and the United States paid for it with a horrendous sixth-place showing in the 2002 world championships, before the bronze medal performances in the ’04 Olympics and ’06 worlds.