Commentary

Odom the grizzled vet in this bunch

With USA Basketball, the Laker takes on the role of leader and the youngsters follow

Updated: July 25, 2010, 2:16 PM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LAS VEGAS -- The "L" words that are usually applied to the guy everybody calls "L.O." are "lefty" and "lackluster," describing his southpaw game that often comes up south of the potential he possesses, respectively.

After a successful week of training camp with USA Basketball in Las Vegas, those "L" words surrounding Lamar Odom have changed to "lock" and "leader," describing his chances of making the team that will compete at the FIBA World Championships in Turkey next month and his role on the squad.

Odom started at center in Saturday's USA Basketball Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage that Odom's White team, led by MVP Kevin Durant, won 114-96. Odom's final line -- two points, six rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block -- was hardly memorable, but the flashes of versatility he displayed were.

Like the time he pressured the man inbounding the ball when the White team broke out a full-court press and was able to scramble down past half court to make a deflection to cause a turnover. Or the time the Blue team hit the White team with a full-court press of its own and Odom was the inbounds pass recipient, putting the ball on the floor and advancing it past the pressure before finding Durant for an easy dunk with a perfectly placed bounce pass.

[+] EnlargeLamar Odom
Brian Jones/Getty ImagesAs one of only two 30-year-olds in Team USA camp, Lamar Odom has embraced the leadership role.

"He can play two positions and we need somebody like him at the 5 internationally because he gives you that mobility -- Chris Bosh did that a little bit for us and Lamar is the same kind of long guy," USA assistant coach Jim Boeheim said. "He's, I think, a very key, key guy for this team."

When Odom isn't making plays on the floor, he's making an impact off it. As one of two players along with Chauncey Billups who was 30 years old (out of the player pool of 22) to show up this week, Odom and Billups assumed unofficial captain status because of their experience. ("Everybody else is relatively a baby," Boeheim said.)

Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher might be the guys dominating the huddles for the purple and gold, but Odom has shown another side of himself for the red, white and blue.

"He has [embraced it]," Billups said. "He really has, man. He's come and he's taken the challenge of being one of the leaders of this team."

The fact Odom's two NBA championships are the same as the other 21 players have won combined, (Billups and Rajon Rondo each have one), hasn't hurt either.

"Chauncey and Lamar have won championships and they know what it takes to win a championship," Durant said. "We're going to lean on those guys as much as possible; they're really the leaders of this team. We just got to follow them and try to learn as much as we can."

Durant might be the face of this summer's USA squad with Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the 2008 Olympic team sitting this one out, but just because he's the one in the commercials doesn't mean he's the one setting the example.

"It's been easy to talk to [Odom]," Durant said. "For a guy who's won two championships in a row, he might come in and think he's better than everybody else here, but that's not the case with Lamar. He's totally the opposite. He's been a great, great teammate so far, always encouraging the young guys and telling young guys what we need to do and it's going to be good to have him over there in Turkey."

Odom is playing for the opportunity to avenge his disappointing bronze-medal finish as a member of the 2004 Olympic team in Athens, but his main motivation is to continue the momentum of his basketball life that has had a surprisingly successful second act.

"I'm probably closer to the end of my career than the start, so this is something that I just wanted to kind of have on my resume," Odom said. "The opportunity to represent your country doesn't come around a lot and this is something that I couldn't pass up."

The 6-foot-10, 230-pound forward played for three different high schools as a teenager, two different colleges after that and two more NBA teams as a pro when he went to Athens as a 24-year-old, still trying to find his home.

Since then, he has played for one team -- the Lakers  and has slowed down as a 30-year-old, letting the wisdom gathered throughout the years wash over him.

"I feel young, but I guess because of mileage and time on the court that I'm a little older," Odom said. "[Being looked to as a leader] is a compliment coming from these guys that are superstars in their own right. A lot of what I have to tell them is not, 'You should make this move or make that move,' but it's to how to kind of see the game, how to implement your teammates in your game to kind of bring them up.

"You can score and get 30 or you can score 30 and know how to win a game. I guess from playing for Phil [Jackson] and playing with Kobe and Derek, I've learned a lot about what it takes to win. Whether you're the 30-point scorer or the eight-point scorer or whether you lead the team in minutes or you're the sixth man, I've kind of seen the game from a lot of different ways. I'm fortunate for that and I'm fortunate to be on a team like this where I can kind of spread the word."

He has figured out how to translate his immense talents into putting tallies in his team's win column. Sure, he scored more with the Heat and had more freedom with the Clippers, but his time with the Lakers has given him the perspective he is trying to pass on to players such as Durant, Derrick Rose, Rudy Gay, Russell Westbrook and the like so their transition from wunderkind to winner doesn't take as long as his did.

"I think what's really important for our team to know is the expectation," Odom said. "If we don't win and win every game -- that's what you need to do to win a world championship -- we're going to be considered as a team that lost. ... We, America, expects to win. Especially at basketball."

From the projects in Queens, N.Y., as a child to the plush life of Hollywood as an adult, Odom is the epitome of an American success story.

Now he's hoping to lead USA Basketball on a similar successful journey this summer.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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