NEW YORK -- A dozen years after shunning college players,
the U.S. Olympic basketball team turned Friday to a pair of players
who jumped to the NBA right out of high school: LeBron James and Amare Stoudemire.
The NBA's last two rookies of the year were among five players
added to this year's Olympic Dream Team, along with New York Knicks
guard Stephon Marbury, New Jersey Nets forward Richard Jefferson,
and Phoenix Suns forward Shawn Marion.
"It's a dream come true for me to represent my country," said
the 19-year-old James, who will become the youngest U.S. Olympic
men's basketball player since Spencer Haywood in 1968.
Withdrawing from the team were guards Ray Allen of the Seattle
Supersonics and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. Allen cited
a personal family matter; Bryant still faces trial on a sexual
assault charge in Colorado.
James, who was 7 when the "Dream Team" debuted, won the rookie of the year award after joining the
Cleveland Cavaliers straight from high school -- a feat accomplished
for the first time just a season earlier by Phoenix's Stoudemire.
The squad is guard-heavy, meaning James could see extended
time at small forward as well as in the backcourt. Anywhere he plays, the rookie sensation is sure to contribute to the American team, which has
won each of the last three Olympic gold medals.
"The way I look at it, this is an opportunity for Stephon,
LeBron and Richard," Olympic coach Larry Brown said in a
teleconference. "I'm going to coach the guys who come."
Marbury, at a Manhattan news conference arranged by the United
States Olympic Committee, said he was proud of his selection.
"This is a high honor for myself," Marbury said. "Playing in
the Olympics is a heartfelt thing. I'm just happy they chose me."
Marbury, who said his childhood Olympic memories were more about
track and field than basketball, said he was looking forward to
competing against the best players in the world -- even though many
of them already play in the NBA.
The announcement also reunited Marbury, albeit temporarily, with
former Suns teammates Stoudemire and Marion.
"This is not even about us," Marbury said. "It's about our
country, and showing we're the best at what we do."
Already on the Olympic rosters were two-time gold medalist Karl
Malone, 2000 gold medalist Jason Kidd, two-time NBA MVP Tim Duncan,
Allen Iverson, Jermaine O'Neal, Tracy McGrady and Mike Bibby.
Kidd, Malone, McGrady and Bibby are all reconsidering their
decision to play in Athens.
Anthony is among several possible replacements, including Sam
Cassell, Ron Artest, and Lamar Odom.
The ever-evolving and increasingly younger roster could cause
problems for the Americans once they get to Greece, said Stu
Jackson, chairman of the USA Basketball selection committee.
"It doesn't hurt us from the talent standpoint, but from the
continuity standpoint," he said.
Information from The Associated Press and SportsTicker was used in this report.