NEW YORK – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and most of the reigning Olympic gold medalists could be back in U.S. uniforms this summer.
If not, USA Basketball thinks it has plenty of players who can replace them.
The Americans announced 27 players Wednesday for the national team pool that will be used to select the rosters for this summer's world championships and the 2012 Olympics in London.
It features nine players who stood atop the medals platform in Beijing and a number of emerging young stars ready for their chance.
"The pool is better than the one we had in the last quadrant and the interest level is higher, and so we feel like we're moving in the right direction," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said on a conference call, hours before he led his Duke team against rival North Carolina.
Also returning from the 2008 team that ended the Americans' eight-year gold medal drought in major competitions are: Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer.
All of the returning players previously told USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo they were interested in coming back after spending all or parts of three years playing for the team that returned the United States to the top of international basketball.
"The reason they're back is they're deserving of being back," Colangelo said.
James, Wade and Bosh are questionable to actually play this summer. All three can become free agents and have said their contract situations are their first priority.
"I really think it's kind of early, but I think guys still want to play," Anthony said. "Of course we'll have that conversation in the near future, but they've got to take care of what they've got to take care of first, which is their contracts and things like that."
Paul is currently sidelined after knee surgery and Bryant is battling a number of injuries, so Colangelo knows he's not going to get all of his top choices. However, he isn't worried about that now, saying those decisions can wait until the team readies for its minicamp in July.
"Everything is a matter of waiting. Everyone's personal situation we're waiting for next summer. There's nothing but speculation between now and then," Colangelo said. "That's why injuries and family issues and free agency, all of these things play a role. That's why you need a pool as strong as we had and that's why we're happy about it."
The only players not returning from the team that won gold in Beijing are Jason Kidd, who previously said he was retiring from international competition with a perfect record, and Michael Redd and Tayshaun Prince, who have battled injuries this season.
The remainder of the roster includes young stars such as Kevin Durant — who nearly made the team that played in the 2007 Olympic qualifier and is considered a lock for this year's — and Derrick Rose. Also returning to the national team are Chauncey Billups and Amare Stoudemire, who played on the U.S. team three years ago.
Krzyzewski and assistants Jim Boeheim, Mike D'Antoni and Nate McMillan already committed to returning last summer.
Stoudemire is perhaps the biggest surprise on the roster. The All-Star forward from Phoenix basically talked himself off the 2008 Olympic team by publicly waffling about his desire to play at the end of the NBA season.
"There was a time when he was really not going to be considered," Colangelo said. "Had he not really reached out through his own efforts personally and his agent about his extreme desire to be part of it, he would not have been part of it. As a result of his expression of great interest, we reconsidered and he is now part of the pool."
Billups backed up Kidd on the 2007 team that went undefeated in Las Vegas, but he withdrew the next year for family reasons. He may not have made the final 12-man roster anyway, since Paul was back from an injury that sidelined him the previous summer.
Lakers forward Lamar Odom, who played on the 2004 Olympic team, also was chosen Wednesday. The rest of the players are almost entirely young players.
The roster includes: Minnesota's Al Jefferson and Kevin Love; Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo of Memphis; Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala; Boston's Kendrick Perkins; Indiana's Danny Granger; New York's David Lee; New Jersey center Brook Lopez; Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook; Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge; Charlotte's Gerald Wallace; and Clippers guard Eric Gordon.
The Americans will choose a group from the roster to take part in their minicamp in Las Vegas in July. They are expected to play an exhibition game in New York before heading to Turkey for the world championships, which they haven't won since 1994.
Colangelo said Lakers center Andrew Bynum and Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo were among the only players who were asked to participate but declined.
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