Team USA Notebook: Center No Big Deal for Versatile Lamar Odom
"That's why I'll be a great coach,'' said the Lakers and Team USA stalwart about what his versatility will mean when his playing days are over.
Odom, you see, has played every position on the basketball court, a claim not many can make. So perhaps it's no surprise Odom, who is mostly a power forward during his day job with the Lakers, has emerged as the starting center for the Americans, who open the FIBA World Championship here Saturday against Croatia.
"In high school,'' Odom, 30, said of his tenure at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in New Britain, Conn., being the last time he was a starting center. "A lot of us were the tallest man on the court at some point (in life and played center). But it makes no difference, center or power forward. I'm a basketball player. Wherever you put me, I fit in.''
The 6-foot-10 Odom has played shooting guard and small forward before. He said he's even had stints in his career as one of the world's tallest point guards, a tribute to his agility.
"He can handle his own in the post,'' Team USA guard Stephen Curry said of Odom's tremendous versatility. "I'm sure he's played point guard. ... He can handle the ball. He can shoot.''
Throw it all together, and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski wants Odom on the court. That's why Krzyzewski, on the heels of the Americans getting off to a disastrous start in an exhibition game last Saturday against Lithuania, replaced starting center Tyson Chandler with Odom for the final two exhibitions.
That's how it will remain against Croatia. Odom will be joined in the starting lineup by forwards Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala and guards Chauncey Billups and Derrick Rose.
Chandler is the team's only true center but was not impressive in three European exhibitions. With that in mind, Team USA could end up playing long stretches with no true center. Kevin Love, normally a power forward who has been playing well, could be getting extended stints as Odom's backup.
"It's not going to be always Tyson coming in for Lamar,'' Krzyzewski said. "It depends on situations.''
Considering the only true center in the Worlds that could bother the Americans is Spain's Marc Gasol, Chandler's playing time suddenly could be in trouble.
With center being the team's weakest spot, Krzyzewski has called upon the versatile Odom to take his skills there. The Americans are quite strong at point guard, so at least Krzyzewski won't need Odom there.
Desperately Seeking Gold
As successful as Krzyzewski has been in his career, he's been unable to steer an American team to a World Championship gold medal.
Coaching college guys in 1990, the Duke mentor led Team USA to a bronze. His Americans were favored in 2006 with pro players, but Krzyzewski again settled for bronze in his second Worlds stint.
"We'd really like to do it,'' Krzyzewski, who has four NCAA crowns and led the Americans to the 2008 Olympic gold medal, said of finally leading a team to a Worlds gold. "The first time (1990) was the last time the college kids played and Russia and Yugoslavia were still together and there's no way you were going to beat them. Both of them could have been NBA teams at that time and a lot of their players ended up being in the NBA.
"The last time (2006), I thought our culture wasn't set enough to do it. We were young. We're a little bit young like we are now. ... But we have a better culture in place (now) so we have a great chance to win. But it's not a done deal. There's a lot of good teams here. We're not taking anything for granted; we know that we can get beat here.''
Perhaps it wouldn't be surprising if Team USA did get beat. In the 15 World Championships since the event began in 1950, the Americans have won gold just three times (1954, 1986 and 1994) while earning three silvers and four bronzes.
In the three previous events with NBA players, Team USA won gold in 1994, bronze in 2006 and finished a disastrous sixth in 2002. In 1998, NBA players did not compete due the lockout, and Team USA finished with bronze.
Who Are These Guys?
At least Krzyzewski knows who some of Croatia's players are.
When asked by a reporter Friday if he could name one Croatian player, Odom admitted he couldn't. The national team boasts no current NBA players, although guards Roko Ukic and Zoran Planinic are former NBA benchwarmers and 7-2 center Ante Tomic was a 2008 Utah Jazz second-round pick.
"Ukic is one of the best international guards and (Marko) Popovic is just a veteran,'' said Krzyzewski, who has learned much since he drew criticism in the 2006 Worlds for referring to Greek players by their numbers, rather than their names, after the Americans suffered a semifinal loss. "Their size is a concern. They have five guys ... 6-11 or above so we don't have as big of a team. They have a rich tradition and we have a lot of respect for who they are.''
Perhaps Odom at least knows the numbers of the Croatia players.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson