The U.S. men's Olympic basketball team is hoping to make up for its somewhat shocking third place finish at the Athens Games four years ago.   VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer is in Beijing and has a report.

That disappointing result in 2004 was the first time since professional basketball players were allowed into the Olympics in 1992 that the United States had not won the gold.

USA Basketball officials refocused their efforts by putting together a star-studded group of NBA players and a big-name coach for the Beijing Games.  If their five pre-Olympic warm-up games are any indication, the Americans will be tough to beat.  They won all five contests, with an average margin of victory of nearly 30 points.

Dwayne Wade, who led the Miami Heat to the NBA title two years ago, says he and his U.S. teammates are ready for their Olympic challenge.

"You know for any team to beat us, they are going to have to play great," he said. "Whatever kind of game we play, they're going to have to play great to beat us.  And that's a good thing.  And if we play great, we're going to be tough to beat."
LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who did not see much playing time on the 2004 bronze medal team, says he has no reservations now about being a leader out on the court.

 "You know that's the one thing that I try to do everyday at practice and in games is to try to be vocal with our team and let them know where they're at on the defensive end and the offensive end," he said. "Yeah, I take that responsibility."

NBA Most Valuable Player, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, knows a U.S. basketball gold medal is not automatic anymore.

"It's not America's game anymore," he said. "It's a global game.  That's just what it's become and I think it's beautiful.  As a purist of the game, that's what you want to see have happen.  Because you love the sport so much you want to share in that same enjoyment."

Coaching the U.S. team at these Olympics is Mike Krzyzewski, who has had great success through the years at Duke University in the East coast U.S. state of North Carolina.  He has been able to get his NBA stars to buy into the team concept.

"Our guys all want to play for the name on the front of the jersey, their country," said Krzyzewski.  "Just like other countries have other high profile players playing also, who are in the NBA.  The NBA is over 30 percent international.  So our guys have fit in well with that.  They want to play as one."
The U.S. men open group round-robin play on Sunday against host China, featuring its NBA superstar Yao Ming.  Coach Krzyzewski expects an electric atmosphere.

"Well, I think they'll show us tremendous respect, and we will show them respect," he said. "Obviously, they would want their team to win.  It's going to be an amazing game."

The other teams the U.S. will face in the first round at these Olympics are Angola, Greece, Spain and Germany.