Carmelo Turning Heads In Vegas.
Las Vegas - Carmelo Anthony has yet to play in an NBA All-Star Game. He was viewed as being on the bubble for one of the 12 spots on Team USA, which plays in the world championships in Japan next month.
But through the first week of practice here, he's being described by USA and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski as "one of our key guys" and is expected to make the team - in fact, no one was making a bigger impression than the Nuggets' forward.
"Very consistent. Very focused," said Miami guard Dwyane Wade, the 2006 NBA Finals MVP. "He's been the best performer here."
Added USA guard Chauncey Billups: "He's showing that he's definitely one of the best players in the world."
Anthony came to camp in great shape after working on his conditioning daily this summer, most of the time in Denver. But questions lingered about whether he was a team player or if he'd play defense. So far, several coaches and players say Anthony has played unselfishly and as hard as anyone. He's surprised some by showing leadership skills.
Is it safe to say Melo will make the team?
"He's been one of the best players here," Krzyzewski said. "No one has worked any harder than him during these four days. He's been a real pleasure to have. I've watched him during the NBA season. I think he's better. Not because we're making him better. Whatever he's done since the end of the season, he's better.
"I'm not sure that the perception out there is that he is a mature guy. But he really has been a mature professional. In addition to having an upside, he really just graduated from college. He's got to be one of our key guys."
"He's playing defense, rebounding, running the floor," USA assistant and Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He seems like he's on a mission."
Cavaliers forward LeBron James described Anthony as "refreshed. It looks like he's been working real hard."
Anthony admits he came to camp feeling he had something to prove.
"I want to make a statement," he said. "It's a new beginning. Two weeks ago, I said this is like a new beginning for me with the USA team and the Nuggets. I really want to take a different approach and show people what I'm all about."
James, Anthony and Wade were the highlights of the 2003 NBA draft class, but Anthony has been overshadowed by the other two, despite averaging 26.5 points this past season. James and Wade are two-time NBA all-stars, but Anthony has yet to be selected. And while Anthony hasn't gotten his team past the first round in the playoffs, Wade led Miami to the championship this year and James took Cleveland to the second round.
Anthony is confident he can play on the same level as James and Wade, but understands why he's not always viewed as being in their class.
"They took it a step further," he said. "LeBron got out of the first round. Dwyane winning a ring. Once I do (something comparable), it's right back to normal."
Said Wade: "Everyone has the time in their life where they get the attention....My rookie year, it was him and LeBron. Now it's me and LeBron. Hopefully, soon, they will put all three of us (together)."
Though he felt in peak physical shape when he arrived here last week, Anthony came with baggage.
He played little for Team USA at the 2004 Athens Olympics and was criticized for being disappointed with his playing time. Off-court issues since have hampered his public persona.
A talk with USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and help from his college coach, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, a USA assistant, led to him being given another shot with Team USA.
"There were some guys that might have questioned everything," Boeheim said. "He's proven what he can do. He's worked hard. Worked hard on defense. Sometimes you get a certain reputation, where something happened maybe two years ago or a year ago and it becomes life, when it really isn't."
USA forward Bruce Bowen had heard some of the negative talk about Anthony but wanted to wait until he spent time with him to make up his mind.
He has gained considerable respect for his Western Conference rival.
"Everyone's made mistakes in this game. But they seem to persecute some guys because of what they see on the outside. They see the tattoos. They see the hair braided. It's like, 'Gang member.' That's not the case.
"This kid is real good and he wants to be a part of this. He could have easily said, 'Nah, I'm not going to play in this. I've played in this before.' But he's come back - and that speaks volumes about him as a person to me."