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BASKETBALL > Kobe looks to be the closer in London

LONDON - Agence France-Presse

Kobe Bryant has already left a disappointing NBA campaign behind and sets his sights on carrying his Team US to another gold medal in the Olympic Games. The Lakers star is confident that he will shoulder the responsibility whenever the games go to the wire

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Kobe Bryant will try to add a second Olympic gold medal to his trophy cabinet, which also includes five NBA titles. Bryant will play alongside LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant in the London Games. AP Photo

Kobe Bryant will try to add a second Olympic gold medal to his trophy cabinet, which also includes five NBA titles. Bryant will play alongside LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant in the London Games. AP Photo

Kobe Bryant, who has one NBA championship ring for each of the five rings in the Olympic logo, wants back-to-back Olympic gold medals with the United States team of NBA stars as well.

Bryant, who turns 34 just 11 days after the Olympic gold medal game, is the elder statesman on an American squad that will be favored at the London Games despite the loss of several top players to injury and several top challengers.

“It’s a big challenge for us,” Bryant said. “The rest of the world, they feel like the gap is shrinking and they can beat us. We know what’s at stake. Come Olympic time we’re going to be ready and we’re going to bring the gold medal back to the United States.”

Bryant’s five NBA crowns with the Los Angeles Lakers include three in a row starting in 2000 and back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, the two seasons after he served as a leader of an American side that found redemption in 2008.

After settling for a bronze medal in 2004, the US squad revamped its Olympic selection process and Bryant joined LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in sparking the Americans to gold.

Mr Clutch

In the Beijing Olympic final, Bryant scored 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to power the US NBA stars over Spain 118-107.

“I’m just the closer. They bring me in if they need me,” Bryant said. “Let them go out there and do all the work. Down the stretch if the ball comes to me, (I will) knock them down, just what I did in Beijing. Same thing.”

US coach Mike Krzyzewski sees the backcourt playmaker as a vital player in the repeat effort, especially given the few tall players on the US roster.

“He is the ultimate competitor. In pressure moments, there is no one any better,” Krzyzewski said of Bryant. “He’s obviously a most important part of our group.

“He says, ‘I’m in great shape. Full force. Whatever you want, use me.” “Coach K” will make the most of Bryant’s offer given the need for players to fit into multiple positions depending on foul trouble and match-up situations against such rivals as Spain, with tall talent that has NBA experience led by Pau Gasol, Bryant’s NBA teammate on the Lakers.

Adjustments

“You have to make adjustments, play to your strengths, which are versatility and speed,” the Laksers superstar said. “We will have some tough matchups. We can create tough matchups on the other side.
“We have a lot of great rebounders. We may not have size but we have a lot of guys who can crash the boards.”

There will be five players from the 2008 Olympic squad and five others from the US team that went unbeaten on the way to winning the 2010 world title to secure the London Olympic invitation.

“One of the biggest strengths is guys growing up and being able to do everything, handle the ball, shoot the ball, post up,” Bryant said. “We have so many athletes that can cover the floor. We have to take advantage of that.”

Most importantly, Bryant did not want to miss the chance to bond with his NBA rivals at the Olympics, what is likely to be the his last.

“Time flies but I am enjoying this. It’s fun,” Bryant said. “There are memories I will carry forever.”

July/17/2012

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