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Shooting Star

Twenty-five-year-old Carmelo Anthony has an impressive résumé on and off the basketball court.
Kenneth Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Hugh Grant, November/December 2009

(continued from page 2)

Boeheim recalls Anthony as an 18-year-old whose talent level was already off the charts. "He was the most talented player in the country as a freshman—nobody was even close to him," says Boeheim, who has now coached the Orangemen for 33 years. "That's the bottom line." That said, Texas, Kansas and a few other powers were expected to triumph.

"We went on a Big 12 run—in the tournament we beat all the Big 12 schools (located mostly in the central United States), Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas," Anthony says. In the Final Four tilt against Texas he posted 33 points—a record for most points by a freshman—and 14 rebounds. In the title game against Texas he scored 20 points and grabbed 10 caroms. He earned Most Outstanding Player honors for the tournament, only the third freshman ever to do so. The others were Louisville's Pervis Ellison in 1986 and Utah's Arnie Ferrin in 1944.

"I think it was meant to be, man," Anthony says with fresh recall, as if it happened last week. "I look at it like that—it was destiny. Because when we started out, nobody expected us to win. But we just came together at the right time."

If ever a player was set up for the draft, it was 19-year-old Carmelo Kiyan Anthony. Cleveland drafted first and chose LeBron James. Detroit then chose Darko Milicic, the seven-foot forward-center from Novi Sad, Serbia. (Since the draft Milicic, who has played for three teams and has never been more than a part-time player, has stumbled his way to a $6.5 million salary with Memphis). Denver made Anthony their third pick.

"I never expected to be drafted third in the NBA," says Anthony. Dating back to the 1968 season in the ABA, Denver was often comical and entertaining but never a winner. For much of the team's history their fans might be heard saying, "I went to a track meet, and a basketball game broke out." In 1981 the Nuggets set an all-time record with 126.5 points per game (a total practically offset by their allowing 126 on defense, 10 points more than anyone in the league), breaking the 1962 Warriors' mark of 125.4, when Wilt Chamberlain got 50.4 of those points by himself. On December 13, 1983, Denver played a triple-overtime game against Detroit and lost 186-184, both exhausted and thoroughly Bengay-ed teams shattering all existing marks for lusty scoring. In the 1990s the team flirted with playoff glory, but a championship remained elusive, and by the 2002-2003 season Denver tied for the worst record in the NBA.

 

Anthony quickly showed that Denver chose rightly. "I started proving a lot as a rookie. The previous year before I got there, Denver had only won 17 games. I came in and we won 42 games." In addition to that quantum leap, Denver has made the playoffs in each of Anthony's six seasons. Prior to his arriving the franchise had missed the playoffs for eight consecutive years, dating to 1995.

Over his first five NBA seasons Anthony eschewed rest to spend three summers competing on two Olympic teams and in a FIBA World Championship tournament. The team from the 2004 Athens Olympics took home bronze, but seemed outplayed from the start. The United States lost to Puerto Rico in their first game, 92-73. Following wins against Greece and Australia, America lost to Lithuania. An 89-81 loss to Argentina in the semi-final cost the Americans any chance at gold.

College players play barely 30 games a year, then suddenly play three times that many with an 82-game NBA season and playoffs to follow. The adjustment proved tough. "We weren't ready for that scene right then and there," Anthony recalls of the disappointing showing. "You know, 18 and 19 years old, playing on an Olympic team. We just had a very challenging season and to come off of that and go right in—it's like being thrown to the wolves. I was sitting on the sideline and learning the game."

That's an understatement. Coach Larry Brown played the NBA's Rookie of the Year runner-up just 47 minutes over the entire Olympic tournament. Anthony complained about playing time, as any proud player would, and drew Brown's wrath. He was smacked with bad press back home. Still, he committed to the 2008 Beijing games. But before that Olympic contest the 2006 FIBA World Championship was contested in Japan. The United States—with a team that included Anthony, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Dwayne Wade—entered the semifinals having won their first seven games before losing to Greece, 101-95. They again took bronze after beating Argentina.


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