Team USA: D-Wade the embodiment of Redeem Team
Two years and two months ago, he was the young phenom the NBA couldn't embrace enough.
Six months ago, he was the broken-down, human-turnover machine whose best work was being done in television commercials.
But as we move into August -- the month in which we'll all learn whether Wade and the rest of Team USA will end America's eight-year gold-medal drought -- we're seeing a Wade 2.0 who's finally back to looking like the Wade who led the Miami Heat to the 2006 NBA championship.
"Last year was not a fair indication of the player he is," Kobe Bryant said Saturday. "He's healthy, he's strong, he's ready to go. The other night he caught a lob and windmilled it, so he's back all the way."
Wade has been the second-leading scorer for Team USA through its first three exhibition games, averaging 17.4 points on 71 percent shooting (80 percent on 3-pointers) as the Americans have rolled past Canada, Turkey and Lithuania.
Wade scored 15 of his team-high 19 points in just seven second-half minutes Friday as the Americans defeated Lithuania by 36 points, pulling away after a 19-point lead had dwindled to nine early in the second half. Wade was the offensive catalyst in the decisive surge, earning player of the game honors as the Americans finished off their five-day trip to Macau with a performance that boosted both their individual and their collective self-confidence.
Wade's teammates lauded him for his three-game body of work, but also for the work he's been putting in behind the scenes, working overtime to add the catch-and-shoot jumper to a repertoire best known for his ability to get to the hoop.
"Well, first of all, any compliment you get from your peers or your teammates means more than compliments that come from outside," Wade said. "So I appreciate LeBron [James] and the guys for saying that and really being behind me the whole time. Like I've been preaching and I've been saying, I've worked my tail off to get healthy. I haven't been healthy in two years after going through that long season, winning the championship, coming right back to compete in the FIBA World Championship.
"I didn't have time to rest my body, so it wore down over the next year, and that's when I had two surgeries. I'm healthy again, I'm as healthy as I've been in two years, and I'm excited not only about this opportunity, but I'm excited about the rest of my career because now I know what it takes, and that weight room has become my best friend."
Like his teammates, Wade bounded off the team bus with a little extra zip in his step late Saturday as the team arrived at its new hotel in Shanghai and immediately made a beeline to an adjacent California Pizza Kitchen, outfoxing the few fans who had received advance notice of their impending arrival and were staking out the front entrance.
The Americans' next match comes Sunday at 3 p.m. local time (3 a.m. ET, ESPN2) against defending European champion Russia (there won't be another afternoon game until the final day of the Olympics, Aug. 24), and coach Mike Krzyzewski already has told them they can have Monday off before playing their final pre-Olympic tune-up Tuesday against Australia.
Chief American scout Tony Ronzone sat outside a Starbucks and greeted the American players as they disembarked from their bus after a two and a half hour commercial flight from Macau to Shanghai. He dispensed nuggets of information gleaned from his trip to Nanjing, China, to scout the FIBA DiamondBall Tournament -- and wondered aloud why Lithuania had used two of its best players, Ramunas Siskauskas and Linas Kleiza, so sparingly Friday, and why the Lithuanians had not given any playing time to one of their more versatile big men, Darius Lavrinovic?
As impressed as he was with the accounts he had read and heard about the victory, Ronzone seemed to believe the Lithuanians were playing possum to a certain degree, showing the Americans very little of their repertoire in the hopes that Team USA would be lulled into a heightened sense of supremacy that ultimately could backfire on the Americans.
After all, there's a big difference between a healthy amount of confidence and a dangerous sense of overconfidence. The job of Ronzone and the coaching staff is to keep the players focused on the individual and team tendencies of each of their upcoming opponents, constantly reminding them that any of the better teams is capable of out-executing and surprising them, just as Greece did two years ago in Japan.
Russia coach David Blatt stopped to greet Ronzone on his way to his team's practice and provided an update on one of his best players, Victor Khryapa, who is trying to recover from an ankle injury in time to be included on the final roster that must be turned in on the eve of the Olympic opener. (Blatt seemed to indicate that Khryapa would survive the final cut.)
The last time an American team faced a Russian squad was at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, when the U.S. defeated Russia in the quarterfinals on the way to winning the gold medal.
Wade was only 18 back then, a kid from Chicago on his way to Marquette and still a long way from being the NBA star known as Flash -- a nickname his critics twisted into Crash as his star flamed out because of knee and shoulder injuries.
Now, he's known by most folks simply as D-Wade.
But if he continues to show the form he has displayed the past nine days, he's bound to be remembered as one of the key members of what increasingly is being referred to as the Redeem Team -- a title the Americans cannot truly earn, however, until we see them standing atop the gold-medal platform three weeks from Sunday.
Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com Insider. He has covered the U.S. senior national team since the 1996 Olympics. To e-mail Chris, click here.
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