Kurt Helin

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Head coach Mike Krzyzewski and Kevin Durant #5 of United States celebrate after defeating Serbia during the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Coach K goes, Pop arrives for US hoops team in transition

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Mike Krzyzewski is heading out, Gregg Popovich is coming in and maybe LeBron James would even come back.

It’s a time of transition for both the U.S. Olympic team and international basketball and it starts, as usual, with the Americans on top.

The U.S. won its third straight gold medal Sunday, beating Serbia 96-66 in the final game for Krzyzewski, who led the program for a decade and became the first coach to win three Olympic gold medals. He also guided the Americans to a pair of world championships, an 88-1 record and from the bottom back to the top.

“It’s been a joy,” Krzyzewski said. “I’ve been so lucky to have been given this opportunity.”

Now it goes to Popovich, the other coach Jerry Colangelo considered before choosing Krzyzewski after taking control of USA Basketball in 2005. Like Krzyzewski, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Popovich is a military man who attended the Air Force Academy and has built one of sports’ most successful organizations while winning five championships with the San Antonio Spurs.

Krzyzewski has used the military as an inspiration for USA Basketball, referring to playing for the team as service and sacrifice, and Popovich should be an ideal choice to continue that relationship.

“You have the best guy in the world who’s going to coach the team now and that says a lot for the program that’s been developed,” Krzyzewski said.

It was in perhaps its worst shape ever when he took over, coming off a bronze-medal finish in the 2004 Olympics and an even poorer finish two years earlier in the world basketball championship.

The Americans lost their first tournament under Krzyzewski, the 2006 worlds, but haven’t dropped even a game since.

Some things to watch as they try to stay on stop:

LEBRON IN JAPAN?

James passed on a fourth Olympics after leading Cleveland to the NBA championship, but may not be done wearing the red, white and blue. The U.S. career leader in scoring before Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant passed him during this tournament, James said during an interview with ESPN that he hasn’t retired from international play and was leaving the door open for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

STARS ALIGN?

Besides James, players such as NBA MVP Stephen Curry and All-Stars and former Olympians Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Chris Paul all withdrew from consideration for the Rio roster. Perhaps some or all of them would be interested in playing for the respected Popovich, who could perhaps even persuade his own star with the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard, to play after also pulling out.

FIRST, THE MINOR LEAGUERS

Before Popovich coaches James or any other NBA stars, the Americans will likely call upon the minor leaguers to get them there.

FIBA, basketball’s world governing body, is introducing a new qualification system similar to the one in soccer, where teams will play home and road games against regional opponents to qualify for the 2019 Basketball World Cup in China. That tournament will then serve to qualify teams for Tokyo.

The Americans don’t know yet who their opponents will be but do know that some games will take place during the NBA season, ruling out Popovich and the world’s best players. They are likely to use NBA Development League players to carry them through until the A-team is available.

WHO ARE THE CHALLENGERS?

Serbia, Australia, Canada and others could soon be nipping at the Americans’ sneakers.

With a second straight finals appearance in a major international tournament, the Serbs have established themselves as a rising global power. They had one of the youngest teams in the field – forward Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets is 21 – and gave the U.S. a major fright in pool play before losing by three points.

The Aussies sent their best team to Rio, but were still without Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, and Dante Exum, still recovering from a knee injury. Australia was in line for its first medal before falling by one to Spain in the bronze-medal game. It seems to only be a matter of time before the Aussies hop onto the podium.

Canada may have been the best team not in Brazil after failing to qualify. Missing Minnesota star Andrew Wiggins and a few others, the Canadians fell short in 2016 but with talent like Tristan Thompson and Tyler Ennis, they have their sights set on Tokyo.

AP Sports Writer Tom Withers contributed to this report.

Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney

Carmelo Anthony caps Olympic odyssey with 3rd gold medal

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of United States reacts after a shot against Serbia during the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Carmelo Anthony had one last thing to teach his young teammates.

On the podium wearing his third Olympic gold medal, Anthony, who led this inexperienced U.S. team from the moment it first gathered weeks ago in Las Vegas, pointed toward one end of Carioca Arena, to the spot where the American flag was about to rise.

“I just told them, `Look at the highest flag,”‘ Anthony said, “and that’s what we did.”

Now there’s nothing left to do for Anthony, whose Olympic career began in disgrace and ends with him being the most decorated player to ever wear a USA jersey. It’s a comeback almost hard to believe.

“I don’t think I can explain how I feel right at this moment,” he said, later adding he will retire as an Olympian.

The only U.S. male player to be chosen for four Olympic teams, Anthony became the first to win three golds as the Americans saved their best for last and crushed Serbia 96-66 on Sunday.

The blowout win capped a remarkable 12-year journey around the five interlocking rings for Anthony, only 20 and fresh off his rookie year in the NBA when he played on a 2004 team remembered for failure.

The Americans lost three times at the Athens Games, and the sight of them wearing olive wreaths on their heads, bronze medals around their necks and disappointment on their faces, was a low point for the sport’s standard of excellence. USA Basketball was down and deflated.

But along with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and others, Anthony helped pump pride and power back into the U.S. program, which remains on top of the world.

Anthony grew over his Olympic run spanning games in Europe, Asia and South America. He matured as a person and found his voice, which he has used to address social issues at home. He became more than just a player whose talents seem to perfectly suit the international game. Anthony, so often criticized for not winning NBA championships, became the model for U.S. players.

He showed commitment, dedication and heart. While James and Paul and other skipped these games, Anthony signed up for another tour of duty to represent his country.

“It’s just his love for the game,” said U.S. forward Paul George, who completed his own amazing story following a horrific leg injury. “It’s his passion for the country and his love for the game, that’s all that it comes down to.”

During his stay in Brazil, Anthony became the leading scorer in U.S. history and he returned late in the second half of Sunday’s rout just so he could snatch one rebound and move past David Robinson on the career list.

However, Anthony’s most significant mark in Rio may have come when he visited the city’s favelas, blighted areas he compared to Baltimore’s inner city of his youth.

It’s another sign of his maturity, which outgoing U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski saw developing 10 years ago.

After the Americans lost to Greece in 2006 in the FIBA World Championships at Tokyo, Anthony sat at the postgame podium with Coach K and expressed humility and determination.

“He didn’t make any excuses,” Krzyzewski said. “He took responsibility for the loss and gave credit to the Greek team and we’ve built on that. I call it character, and in that moment, sometimes after a loss, you find out a deep character in someone. That’s what happened with Carmelo and in the commitment of LeBron and Kobe and Chris, all these guys have great character and it just built to where we now have a great culture.”

The Americans haven’t lost since, winning 76 straight games counting exhibitions. And Anthony has collected three golds as precious to him as an NBA ring.

A fifth Olympics isn’t in his plans, but neither was a dozen years wearing the red, white and blue.

“I’m hanging these things up, USA Basketball-wise,” he said. “It’s been a fun journey for me. It’s been a fun ride. I’ve seen both sides of it. I’ve seen the losing side and I’ve seen what it feels like to win three gold medals. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.”

Watch Team USA celebrate winning gold in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Kyle Lowry and DeAndre Jordan #6 of United States celebrates after defeating Serbia during the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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They earned the right to celebrate.

The early rounds may not have been as pretty as some wanted to see, but in the end, the USA defense cranked up the pressure, they moved the ball on offense, they knocked down threes — Hello Kevin Durant — and the USA ran away to the gold.

So the celebration was on.

Bench play from Kyle Lowry, Paul George, rest of bench crucial to USA gold in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19:  Paul George #13 of United States reacts during the Men's Semifinal match against Spain on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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It had happened before throughout the Rio Olympics — a team that was not of the USA’s class was hanging around early against the starters.

Sunday it was Serbia’s turn. The USA trailed 14-12 in as it was getting late in the first quarter and the USA offense was a sloppy, stagnant mess…

Then everything flipped — the USA went on a 40-15 run and pulled away to lead 52-29 at the half. The competitive portion of the game was over at that point; there were just 20 minutes of garbage time left.

What changed?

The USA bench came in.

As they had every step of the way to the USA’s gold medal, the bench changed the dynamic of the game when they entered. They came in and defended, got some gritty buckets, moved the ball on offense, attacked the rim, and opened up the floor. It was the way they played the game Sunday against Serbia opened up opportunities for Kevin Durant, who in turn responded by nailing threes and attacking the rim on his way to 30 points.

This was not an isolated incident. The USA’s gold came because of their defense, and often started with the bench.

Deserving the most credit was the combination of Kyle Lowry at the point and Paul George at the wing — they changed games. Plural. Lowry is a better, more tenacious on-ball defender than Kyrie Irving. Paul George can guard multiple positions and was the best individual defender on Team USA. Often Jimmy Butler, another good defender, would be part of that mix. DeMarcus Cousins grew into that role throughout the games. When they came in the USA was a tougher team who could grind out a win.

Look at it this way, against Argentina in the quarterfinals the lineup of Lowry, Butler, George, Durant, and DeMarcus Cousins was +20 in 12 minutes, the rest of the team was +7 for the remainder of the game.

The USA’s depth — a bench of NBA All-Stars and All-NBA players — was always crucial to their success. No other country could match it. But what Lowry, George, Butler and the rest of the bench brought more than skill was a feisty attitude and toughness. The USA could falter sometimes trying to be too pretty when what they needed to be was tough. The bench adopted the tough attitude.

It showed up against Spain in the semi-finals, when the USA didn’t win pretty but they won.

“We fought,” Carmelo Anthony said after winning the gold. “It wasn’t always pretty, but we came together July 17 and we all committed for this one reason, right now.”

Anthony with three golds deserves to be a storyline. Durant, with his ridiculous offensive explosion, deserves to be a story line. Mike Krzyzewski and his era as coach of USA Basketball deserves to be a story.

But the USA doesn’t have gold without Lowry, George and the rest of Team USA’s bench.

Twitter reacts to Team USA’s latest gold medal in hoops

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan and Kyle Lowry #7 of United States stand on the podium after defeating Serbia in the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The USA has won 25 straight games in the Olympics, which has now brought them three straight gold medals after the USA throttled an outmanned Serbian team Sunday.

On twitter, the love rolled in for Team USA from the biggest names in the game (and just some big-name fans). Here are just a few highlights.