By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun
4:55 PM EDT, July 21, 2012
Ever since Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to an NCAA basketball championship as a freshman in 2003, his once-shiny reputation has been steadily chipped away.
From the missteps off the court early in his NBA career to the way he alienated an adoring fan base in Denver by forcing a trade to the New York Knicks midway through the 2010-11 season, to his rocky relationship with some of his coaches and teammates, Anthony has carved a less-than-stellar image for being more interested in big scoring nights and bigger paydays than winning championships.
Jim Boeheim, who coached Anthony in his only college season and has been an assistant on the past two U.S. Olympic teams, thinks the criticism of his former star is unfair.
"He's never been a selfish player. At Syracuse, he took shots because we wanted him to be the scorer," Boeheim said Monday after the U.S. team played Brazil in an exhibition game at Verizon Center in Washington. "When you go to New York and the team doesn't win, you're always going to get the blame. The best player always gets the blame. I watched them play 60 times last year; they don't have a good team. ... In New York, you're going to have to win; that's just the way it is."
Being a member of the U.S. Olympic team — at least the last two of them — has been Anthony's haven. After a difficult start for Anthony as a member of an underachieving, unhappy American team that settled for a bronze medal in 2004 under Larry Brown, the former Towson Catholic star has become an important piece for a U.S. squad looking for its second straight gold medal playing for Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.
"Carmelo's beautiful. I love Carmelo," Krzyzewski said after a practice and scrimmage on July 14 at the D.C. Armory. "You talk about commitment. This is his third Olympics. He's played in a world championship. As good a player as he is in the NBA. I think he's one of the really outstanding international players, because the game's physical."
Anthony seems to be a different player wearing the red-white-and-blue than he's been wearing a Nuggets or Knicks uniform. Maybe it's the fact that he's playing power forward or that he doesn't have to be the focal point, allowing LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and possibly now even Kevin Durant to take more of the spotlight.
"I think everyone has to play a little different than they do on their own team," said former Knicks coachMike D'Antoni, another assistant on the Olympic team. "They come together. Here it's an easy goal, it's a gold for everybody and nothing else matters. So guys adapt and play roles."
The smiling kid whose game grew up in the playgrounds of Baltimore and later took a national stage at Syracuse seems to re-emerge every four years. Boeheim said it comes down to his former star's mood.
"I know for one thing that he plays better when he's happy," Boeheim said. "If he's not happy, for whatever reason, he doesn't play as well. Here, it's a great situation for all these guys because they all get along so well. They really like each other. He's representing his country, it's important to him, he's playing with his friends."
Boeheim discounts the notion that Anthony is more comfortable being a facilitator for players like James, Bryant and now Durant than he is as a team's main scoring option.
"I think he likes being the guy, the scorer," Boeheim said of a player who has averaged nearly 25 points per game over his NBA career. "The hard thing for me, Carmelo is a scorer and he gets criticized for trying to be a scorer. That's what he is. He doesn't play like LeBron. He doesn't get a lot of easy stuff. If Kevin Durant goes 6-for-24, nobody says anything. Carmelo goes 6-for-24, he's taking too many shots. ... There aren't too many scorers that can do it any better than he can."
With the addition of Durant, the reigning NBA scoring champion, to this year's Olympic team, Anthony is playing more inside. Anthony, who led the United States in scoring in Beijing four years ago, is still adjusting to his role, as evidenced by his 1-for-7 shooting performance in an 80-69 victory over Brazil. He came off the bench in Thursday's 118-78 victory over Great Britain in Manchester, England, leading the team with 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting.
Asked whether he still enjoys playing for the Olympic team as much as he did four years ago, Anthony said: "Absolutely, it's a great thing, it's a fun thing, it's a pride thing. We love it. We still have fun. We still talk about it like we're little kids putting this uniform on."
That is what Anthony hoped would happen with the Knicks, after a prolonged soap opera that took more than a season in Denver to play out seemed to end when he was traded to New York. But his tenure there has been marred by two early playoff exits and the firing last season of D'Antoni — a decision reached when it was clear he and his five-time All-Star couldn't co-exist.
"We never had any problems," Anthony said. "As a coach and a player, you're never going to be completely on the same page, that's with anybody. You can ask him, we never had any problems."
That he is coaching Anthony again is "no big deal," D'Antoni said.
Helping the United States win its second straight gold medal won't change Anthony's image nationally — or in New York. Helping the Knicks win their first title since 1972-73 might.
Since being drafted third behind James and Darko Milicic in 2003, Anthony has watched other players from the first round in that draft win a title. Dwyane Wade was the first, leading the Miami Heat in 2006. James and Chris Bosh joined Wade last month. Milicic earned an NBA ring as a rookie with the Detroit Pistons. Kendrick Perkins, who was also picked in the first round that year, won a title with the Boston Celtics in 2008.
It is one of the reasons Anthony chose to play on the Olympic team again.
"That's why I wanted to come back, to come back in the best shape I could come back, not because of just what people think," he said. "I covet [an NBA] championship every year. I work hard on my game every summer. If people are willing to see that or not, I work hard on my game every summer. This summer, I wanted to prove a point. I will and I am willing to do whatever it takes."
Anthony said he thinks he is largely misunderstood because of the way he is portrayed in the media — not that he seems that upset about it.
"I can't sit here and complain about that. As far as my image goes, as far as being a basketball player, it is what is," he said "I don't know what the image is as far as me being a basketball player. I go out there and compete hard every night and see what happens."
Tyson Chandler, Anthony's teammate in New York and the starting center for the Olymic team, said Anthony is misunderstood.
"Carmelo is an excellent player. He supplies so much," said Chandler, who believes the addition of point guard Jason Kidd for next season will help Anthony. "Hopefully next year we put the players around him to help him succeed."
That success — and the goal of winning an NBA title — is clearly what's fueling him each time he takes the court this offseason.
"I think just seeing my peers, period, win a championship, it motivates me to go out and win a championship, whether it's LeBron orDirk [Nowitzki], regardless of who it may be," Anthony said. "Being home at the end of the year is not a good feeling."
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