HOUSTON >> Carmelo Anthony was the first player Jerry Colangelo talked to about joining a new U.S. national basketball team program. Now, he's the last one standing.
An Olympic career that started miserably is still going 12 years later, so long that some of Anthony's teammates were middle schoolers when it began. He will become the first U.S. man to play in four Olympics, and if the Americans medal he will leave Rio de Janeiro as the most decorated men's basketball player ever.
"He's going to be the leader of this team along with (Kevin Durant). And to have somebody who, this will be his fourth Olympics, that level of experience — and he's still a great player — and commitment, it's a godsend, really," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He'll be one of key factors in us attempting to win the gold medal."
Anthony already owns two of those, along with a bronze. He figures to shatter many of the U.S. records he doesn't already own, and even Michael Jordan and LeBron James should be looking up at Anthony on the team's scoring list before the end of the Rio Games.
And to think, there were people wondering why Colangelo approached Anthony at all in 2005 after his petulant performance a year before in Athens.
"Here we are, this is his fourth and he's the first guy that I had spoken with," Colangelo said. "And it's great to see in my mind, the career he's had, and it's great for us to know that he's had so much success with us, in terms of the international game, and he's thrived in the international game."
Nobody knows that better than Nigeria, the Americans' opponent here Monday in their final exhibition game. Anthony scored a U.S.-record 37 points against them in just 14 minutes of a 156-73 rout four years ago, setting American records by going 10 of 12 from 3-point range.
"All the guys, once I hit that first one, guys they knew at that point, especially from earlier in the day at shootaround," Anthony said. "As players, guys who can get hot like that, you can see that from a mile away. I didn't see it, but I'm guessing they saw it and their goal was just to get me the ball."
That team, like four years earlier in Beijing, had James, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, veterans who were Anthony's friends for years. They all passed this team, leaving the 32-year-old Anthony to learn a new group of teammates who are almost all on the other side of 30, but he said this trip is really no different.
"I think it just took kind of a couple days to just kind of really figure everybody out from a personal level," he said. "As far as being basketball players, that was the easy part."
The New York Knicks' All-Star considered not playing but was urged to return by U.S. assistant Jim Boeheim, his coach at Syracuse when Anthony led the Orange to the 2003 NCAA title.
"I told him basically, I said, 'Look, you had two or three bad years. Let's go have a good experience playing basketball,"' Boeheim said. "And that's what this."
It wasn't in 2004, when Anthony was among the last additions to a U.S. team that lost three times and left with a bronze medal. The then-rookie provided a bad attitude and not much good play, but Colangelo met with him early in the 2005-06 season and told Anthony he was interested and would be watching him that season.
Anthony has made the most of his second chance and gone on to play 72 games in a U.S. uniform, nearly the equivalent of a full NBA season. He's the team leader in 3-pointers at the Olympics and ranks in the top five in most other categories.
Anthony needs 17 points to tie Jordan for third place on the U.S. list in the Olympics and needs 35 to pass James as the career leader. Even if he never wins an NBA championship, his international achievements alone should be enough to secure Anthony a spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
"I never really thought about it like that," Anthony said. "As far as the NBA championship goes, as long as I'm in this league, I have the opportunity to go win an NBA championship or try to compete to win an NBA championship. Winning a gold medal don't come around as often, you know what I mean? So this was it was a very difficult but it was a very honest conversation I had to have with myself."
An inexperienced U.S. team should benefit from the answer.
"I'm very happy that he decided to do this. This is more than a win-win," Colangelo said. "I think for his legacy, I think it speaks volumes."