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Kobe will be part of U.S. team at worlds, Olympics

Updated:
PHOENIX (AP) _ Kobe Bryant plans to play for the U.S. team at this year's world basketball championships and the 2008 Olympics.

Bryant gave an emphatic nod to joining the U.S. team in a meeting Friday with the head of USA Basketball, Jerry Colangelo.

``I'm very excited, man, very excited,'' Bryant said Friday night before his Los Angeles Lakers met the Phoenix Suns. ``I'm excited to be an Olympian, to represent our country. I've been looking forward to this.''

Colangelo said Bryant had told him earlier that he was extremely interested.

``I had a previous conversation with him and we said we would meet again when he came to Phoenix,'' Colangelo said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. ``He's really excited about it. He's really kind of juiced about representing the United States. He had some great things to say about the opportunity.''

Bryant, the NBA's leading scorer at 34.7 points per game, joins LeBron James as the two players who have been publicly named to the 20-man U.S. roster that will report to a training camp in Las Vegas this summer, then travel to a series of exhibition games in China and South Korea before taking part in the world championships in Japan.

There will be a training camp again next year, followed by another round of training and exhibition games in 2008 leading up to the Beijing Olympics.

``It's going to be fun, it's going to be challenging,'' Bryant said. ``I'm just looking forward to getting over there.''

The remaining 18 players will be announced after the All-Star break, Colangelo said. The selection and acceptance of James and Bryant was announced to clear the way for promotional efforts in China, Colangelo said.

Bryant had been expected to take part in the Athens Olympics in 2004 but withdrew to deal with a sexual assault case against him in Colorado.

``It was very disappointing so I just try not to think about it too much,'' Bryant said of not being able to play in Athens. ``I just let it go. Everything happens for a reason, and this for whatever reason is the time for me to be on the team.''

The charge against him ultimately was dropped and Colangelo complimented Bryant's behavior since then.

``I think he's done a great job of positioning himself in terms of his persona and conduct,'' Colangelo said. ``In representing his country, he can expand on that.''

Colangelo called Bryant ``one of the one or two most prolific, dominant players in the game right now. If you can field a team with someone of his caliber, that's a pretty important step.''

``He's almost unstoppable in terms of his performance,'' Colangelo said. ``There's a competitiveness about him that kind of wills his teams to wins.''

While Bryant is a scoring machine with the Lakers, he will have no qualms about reducing his role on the U.S. team, Colangelo said.

``I think Kobe Bryant is a player with enough moxie to go along with his talent that he'll adjust to whatever his role is,'' Colangelo said. ``In fact, that's exactly what he said today.''

After the U.S. team struggled to a bronze medal in Athens, USA Basketball appointed Colangelo to the new position of managing director. He was given charge to personally select the U.S. team and coaching staff. He said it will not be a collection of superstars but a true national team complete with role players. Players must give a three-year commitment that includes this year's worlds.

``We as Americans, we respond so much to challenges,'' Bryant said. ``This is a challenge. We're so used to being at the top of the sport for so many years and now that we're not up there, we have a clear challenge ahead of ourselves.''

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski will coach to team.

``I think it's great what he's doing,'' Bryant said of Colangelo's efforts. ``He's establishing right now the attitude and mindset as a team going in. Having Coach K and selecting the players carefully and doing his due diligence, I think it just sets the tone for what we're trying to accomplish.''
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