NBA players go for gold

LAS VEGAS — Mike Krzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo welcomed players here with a meeting and a challenge to prove they want to play for the United States.

Most of them won't get to next summer.

But a strong performance this week will get them noticed for the future, which is why more than 20 young players agreed to take part in USA Basketball's minicamp.

Most of the spots on the U.S. roster for the 2010 world championships could be claimed by returning members from last year's Olympic gold medalists. The guys who play well this week have a head start on earning whatever is left.

"Who knows how many spots will be open eventually, but one way or another we know this will be the source of our picks, because there is a lot of great talent here," Colangelo said Thursday.

During the meeting Wednesday, the players were shown video of what the Americans accomplished in 2008, winning their first gold medal in a major international competition in eight years.

"Let's put it this way: When that meeting was over, we knew they were all ready," said Colangelo, USA Basketball's chairman. "If they weren't ready at that point, they never would be ready, because it was a great opportunity for them."

O.J. Mayo is, saying he would do, "whatever it takes, like I'm trying to get a job."

"Dive on the floor, wipe the sweat up, whatever I have to do to be a part of Team USA, I'm definitely open," the Memphis Grizzlies guard said.

Still, there won't be many jobs available anytime soon. The core players on the U.S. team that won gold in Beijing have told Colangelo they are interested in playing next year in Turkey and in the 2012 Olympics in London.

That could leave as few as four spots available for the 20 players that were on the floor Thursday, but Colangelo had no trouble finding guys who were interested in coming to practice at a Las Vegas high school.

"It's just an opportunity that nobody's going to not take," said Portland center Greg Oden, finally getting to work out with the Americans after being injured the last three summers.

The Americans will practice again Friday before ending the week with an intrasquad exhibition game Saturday night. The goal is to play well enough to get invited back next year to compete for a seat on the plane to Turkey.

"Whether there's one spot open, all the way to four, five, six, whatever it is, we're all fighting for it," Minnesota forward Kevin Love said. "We all love the competition."

Toronto coach Jay Triano, who is running the workouts this week, wasn't surprised that so many players are here with nothing guaranteed.

"You don't know if six guys are coming, you don't know if three guys are coming back or nine or 12 guys are coming back," Triano said. "There are going to be spots open and this isn't about 2010 and 2012. These kids are young enough that 2014 and 2016 are possibilities for them. So get in the pipeline now, show that you're interested."

Kevin Durant, who nearly made the U.S. team that played in the 2007 Olympic qualifier and often appeared to be the best player on the floor Thursday, seems assured of any roster spot that opens up.

Philadelphia guard Andre Iguodala hopes he gets his chance. He played on the select team of young players that scrimmaged against the U.S. teams the last two summers, and Krzyzewski mentioned him as someone who has shown a commitment to the program.

"You don't want that to be the whole reason, 'OK, I've been here three of four years,'" Iguodala said. "If there's a guy better than me, I don't want that to be a reason why I make it. I'm trying to prove every year I want to be one of the guys on the team because of my skills and I'm committed and they can use me."

It's also a chance for Oden to finally impress the USA Basketball leaders who invited him to play in 2006 and '07, only to see him pull out with a variety of injuries. He looked sharp during workouts Thursday, blocking several shots and grabbing rebounds of others that did get to the basket.

No matter what comes of this week, players said taking part was attractive just for the competition they'd get. Mayo said if they weren't here, many of them would be somewhere else working out.

"They got the best young talent in the NBA," Durant said. "We're the future and I'm excited to be here with these great guys."

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