Problem is, Bryant wanted to be playing with those guys, not
Knee surgery put that plan on hold. Instead, he had to settle
for observing the U.S. national team's debut Tuesday night. And he
came away impressed.
"It's amazing, it's fun to watch," Bryant said. "They come at
you in waves. It's nonstop, the pressure that they put on
fullcourt, quick hands, quick feet that they have."
If the Americans play as well as they did at times Tuesday, they
might not even miss Bryant.
Even without the NBA's leading scorer, the U.S. had several
impressive spurts during a four-quarter scrimmage against Puerto
Rico. Scores were reset at the start of each period, otherwise the
Americans would have won 116-82.
U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski stressed earlier Tuesday that the scrimmage was nothing more than a practice, but he found his players took it more seriously than that.
"I like the fact, I think it meant something," Krzyzewski
said. "I thought actually a couple of guys were nervous in a good
way. That means it means something. I thought they tried to play
The U.S. held a Puerto Rican team that included Orlando guard Carlos Arroyo without a point for more than 3 minutes to open the
second quarter. The most impressive stretch came during the third
period, highlighted by baskets from LeBron James, Wade and Howard
right in front of Bryant.
The scrimmage marked the first time the teams were together
since the Puerto Ricans routed the Americans 92-73 during
preliminary round play at the 2004 Olympics.
Carmelo Anthony was on that U.S. team, and hasn't forgotten
about his Olympic debut.
"I remember like it was yesterday," he said after a morning
practice. "I can't forget that ... whipping."
He guaranteed a competitive atmosphere, then went out and was
the best player on the floor. He scored 23 points and shot
10-for-13 from the floor while helping spearhead the strong
defensive effort to begin the second quarter.
Anthony said the plan was to build on a strong finish to the
first quarter by the previous unit. Krzyzewski played seven players
in the first and third quarters, and the other eight in the other
"We tried to learn from their mistakes and I think it helped us
in the second quarter," Anthony said.
James added 20 points. All 15 players scored for the Americans.
Arroyo scored 17 points for the Puerto Ricans, including a
desperation 3-point shot just before the buzzer at the end of the
second quarter. Rick Apodaca, who played at Hofstra, added 13
The teams meet again Thursday night in an exhibition game, and face each other in their opening game at the world championships on
Aug. 19 in Sapporo.
Bryant could be there; he said he wasn't planning to travel to Asia while continuing to rehab his knee, but USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said Nike would like Bryant to make a promotional appearance in Japan.
Still, he'll have to wait at least another year before he can do
anything other than watch his teammates. He also had to pull out
before the 2004 Olympics while dealing with a sexual assault trial -- and Tuesday night reminded him how much he wanted to be a part of
"It's tough, it's really tough," Bryant said after the game.
"Especially coming, seeing guys playing, competing and doing what
they did today.
"I've been looking forward to this. Since I spoke with Mr.
Colangelo on the phone I've been looking forward to it, coming out
here and playing and competing. It's very upsetting."