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New leaders emerge as U.S. men’s basketball team opens camp

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Coach Mike Krzyzewski got his first glimpse at the new-look U.S. national team, as the team opened camp at UNLV with just two players back from the 2012 national team that won the gold medal in London.

Carmelo Anthony returns for his fourth run at the Olympics, after winning a bronze medal in 2004 and gold medals in 2008 and 2012, while Kevin Durant is looking for a second gold medal after playing on the championship team in 2012.

And though there are 10 new faces on the team that will represent the U.S. in the Olympics, several were a part of the 2014 FIBA world championship team, and know what is expected of them. Making things easier, as it was for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 12-man roster has been set since June, giving Krzyzewski and his staff ample time to devise rotations and focus on the players they knew were coming.

“It’s the angst you go through in that week of determining from 16 to 12, (it) takes away from your preparation,” Krzyzewski said. “We have had none of that. That’s a huge advantage, and also for these guys, you got 12 guys (who) have been completely focused on being on this team. It’s really a good advantage.”

Krzyzewski said he was pleased with Anthony taking charge the first day, being a vocal leader for what he believes could be one of the best defensive teams he’s ever coached since becoming taking over in 2005. He also credited Durant, Kyrie Irving and DeMarcus Cousins for stepping up as leaders on the opening day of camp.

“It’s a new group of guys (so) I get a chance to go out there and kind of be a leader to the team and kind of enjoy it,” Anthony said. “For me, it’s about going over there and having fun, getting that feeling back, getting that fun feeling back and try to get a gold medal.”

As he’s done in year’s past, Krzyzewski met with the team and staff privately Sunday night, showing players video clips from previous years and delivering a motivational speech about what it means to represent the United States. With the recent unrest involving civilians and police officers, the message came across even stronger for this team.

“Whenever you get a chance to sit in that meeting and see and understand what we’re doing is bigger than us, as basketball players, it gives you chills and puts everything in perspective,” DeMar DeRozan said. “It makes your job easier to go out there and do what you love to do and represent your country.”

And as the national team takes on its new look, ushering in a new era, the 69-year-old Krzyzewski is making his final run with the Olympic team. Under his watch, Krzyzewski has led the U.S. to two gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics as well as the 2007 FIBA Americas Tournament and the 2010 and 2014 world championships.

Nonetheless, Krzyzewski said the most important thing is to avoid focusing on the milestones he, Anthony and Durant are headed toward, and aim toward maintaining a united front with the entire squad.

“All of us need to be in this moment, not in ‘this is my last time’ or ‘it’s the third gold medal for Carmelo,'” said Krzyzewski, who has led the Americans to a near-perfect 52-1 since 2005. “It’s ‘this team,’ and that’s what we’re trying to do, just be in this moment with this team. It’s one of the biggest mistakes any competitor can make, is to be in only your moment. They’re not going to play because it’s my last time being the Olympic coach. So I have to coach them like it’s my first time, and that’s how we’re going to do it.

“We just want to play as well as we can, and be worthy of winning the gold, so they’ll be worthy of continuing to win the respect of our country and the world.”

MORE: U.S. men may be weaker, but still strongest in Olympic basketball

Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s first Olympic track and field medalist, has coronavirus

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s lone Olympic track and field medalist, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to World Athletics and an Iranian news agency.

“We’ve received word from several Asian journalists that Iranian discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi has tested positive for coronavirus,” according to World Athletics. “[Hadadi] trains part of the year in the US, but was home in Tehran when he contracted the virus.”

Hadadi, 35, became the first Iranian to earn an Olympic track and field medal when he took silver in the discus at the 2012 London Games. Hadadi led through four of six rounds before being overtaken by German Robert Harting, who edged the Iranian by three and a half inches.

He was eliminated in qualifying at the Rio Olympics and placed seventh at last fall’s world championships in Doha.

Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics, one year later than expected

Jordan Larson
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Whether the Tokyo Olympics would have been this summer or in 2021, Jordan Larson knew this: It will mark her final tournament with the U.S. volleyball team, should she make the roster.

“I’m just not getting any younger,” said Larson, a 33-year-old outside hitter. “I’ve been playing consistently overseas for 12 years straight with no real offseason.

“I also have other endeavors in my life that I want to see. Getting married, having children, those kinds of things. The older I get, the more challenging those become.”

Larson, who debuted on the national team in 2009, has been a leader the last two Olympic cycles. She succeeded Christa Harmotto Dietzen as captain after the Rio Games. Larson started every match at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

As long as Larson was in the building, the U.S. never had to worry about the outside hitter position, said two-time Olympian and NBC Olympics volleyball analyst Kevin Barnett.

“She played as if she belonged from the start,” he said. “They will miss her all-around capability. They’ll miss her ability to make everyone around her better. She’s almost like having a libero who can hit.”

Karch Kiraly, the Olympic indoor and beach champion who took over as head coach after the 2012 Olympics, gushed about her court vision.

“It’s a little dated now, but somebody like Wayne Gretzky just saw things that other people didn’t see on the hockey rink,” Kiraly said in 2018. “And I remember reading about him one time, and the quote from an opposing goalie was, oh my god, here he comes, what does he see that I don’t see right now? She sees things sooner than most people.”

Larson grew up in Hooper, Neb., (population 830) and starred at the University of Nebraska. She was a three-time All-American who helped the team win a national title as a sophomore. She had the opportunity to leave Nebraska and try out for the Olympics in 2008 but chose to remain at school for her final season.

She earned the nickname “Governor” as a Cornhusker State sports icon.

Larson helped the U.S. win its first major international title at the 2014 World Championship. She was also part of the program’s two stingers — defeats in the 2012 Olympic final and 2016 Olympic semifinals, both matches where the U.S. won the first set (and convincingly in 2012).

“It just gives me chills thinking about it now,” Larson said of the Rio Olympic semifinals, where Serbia beat the U.S. 15-13 in the fifth. “That team, we put in so much. Not just on the court but off the court working on culture and working on how are we best for each other. How can we be the best team? How can we out-team people? Certain teams have a better one player that’s a standout that we maybe didn’t have or don’t have. So how can we out-team the other teams? We had just put in so much work that was just heartbreaking.”

Larson and the Americans rebounded to win the bronze-medal match two days later.

“I don’t know anybody that didn’t have their heart ripped out. It was just a soul-crusher of a match,” Kiraly said of the semifinal. “More meaningful was what a great response everybody, including Jordan, mounted to the disappointment of that loss.”

The U.S. took fifth at worlds in 2018 and is now ranked second in the world behind China.

Larson spent the past club season in Shanghai. The campaign ended in mid-January. She hadn’t heard anything about the coronavirus when she took her scheduled flight back to California, learning days later that LAX started screening for it. Now, she’s working out from her garage.

Larson is in line to become the fifth-oldest U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball player in history, according Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

Her decade of experience could go a long way to help the next generation of outside hitters, led by three-time NCAA champion and Sullivan Award winner Kathryn Plummer.

“If you’re coming into the USA program as an outside hitter, in the next year or the quad or the quad after that,” Barnett said, “the measuring stick is going to be Jordan Larson.”

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