Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant believes the USA national team have what it takes to win gold at the Beijing Olympics despite the recent disappointment at the World Championships in Japan.
The 27-year-old sensation visited Beijing during the weekend as part of his "81 Asia Tour," that ended on Sunday.
"Actually we were doing fine at the Worlds," said Bryant. "My team-mates are absolutely the best players in the world and the team is a great collection and combination of young and talented.
"Now we have two more years to get ourselves even stronger, so I think we have the elements to win the gold medal at the Beijing Games."
Bryant had been drafted by head coach Mike Krzyzewski but was then sidelined at the Worlds due to knee injury, only to watch his team ousted by Greece in the semi-finals. The humiliating experience motivates him to return to the national team and is now hungry for international competitions.
"I am so excited to join the team in games," he said. "I am looking forward to the challenge from the best teams in the world, like Spain and Greece.
"I haven't played with coach K but I really hope that I can at the Beijing Olympics. It's clear that it's impossible to lead a team to world champion just by myself, I need support from my team-mates and coaches. We've got to win as a team and lose as a team."
Once the world's undisputed basketball superpower, US "Dream Teams" stocked with NBA talent ruled the international game with gold medal-winning performances at the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics. But the dominance has faded in recent years.
In the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis, the Americans lost three times and finished an embarrassing sixth. In the 2004 Olympics in Greece, Team USA again lost three games and settled for a bronze medal.
Bryant is widely seen as one of the most outstanding players in the league. He scored 81 points against Toronto in January this year, the second-highest total in NBA history. During the 2005-2006 season, Bryant ranked No 1 in the NBA in terms of points per game (35.4) and averaged 27.5 points at the play-offs.
He took part in the closing ceremony of a Nike training camp for youngsters as a coach in Beijing on Saturday and watched a game of Nike Chinese Middle School League.
"The basketball atmosphere is awesome," Bryant said. "Yao Ming opened the door for Chinese at NBA. He set a good example of how Chinese players made it into NBA.
"It's not about where you're from, it's about your practice and effort. I am looking forward to seeing more Chinese players in NBA."
Source: China Daily