Chris Paul: Rising Star Looks to London
Courtesy of Teamusa.org - Feb. 2, 2009
Veteran NBA star Jason Kidd started all eight games of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at the point guard position for USA Basketball, but it was clear to many that the heir apparent at the position is New Orleans Hornets' rising star Chris Paul.
The 6-foot guard out of Wake Forest averaged 22 minutes off the bench per game for coach Mike Krzyzewski. Over the course of the USA's eight games in Beijing, Paul led the team with a total of 33 assists compared to just nine turnovers. He was second on the team in steals to LeBron James with 18. He shot 50 percent from the field and made 91 percent of his free throws, including a 9-for-10 performance at the line in the gold medal game.
Despite everything he has already achieved in his basketball career from college to the NBA, Paul puts winning the gold medal at the top of his list.
'That's the best basketball team I've ever played on in my entire life,' Paul said. 'It was a huge honor to be a part of it.'
After winning the bronze medal at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, the 2008 team came in with some fresh blood on the roster and strong leadership. One of those leaders was Krzyzewski, a coaching legend at Duke.
Having played against each other in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Paul and Krzyzewski were no strangers when the two signed on to play and coach for Team USA.
'Coach K is a winner,' Paul said. 'Regardless of what anybody tries to say about him, he's a proven winner and [a] guy I really enjoy playing for.'
Paul is quick to point out, however, that fans shouldn't take a gold medal for the USA for granted.
'I think a lot of times people expect the U.S. team to go out and win every game by 40 points like the old Dream Team did,' Paul said. 'But the rest of the world has really caught up in the sport. It was a huge achievement for us to win gold being that the competition was so great.'
Since being drafted fourth overall in the 2005 NBA draft, Paul made an immediate impact with the Hornets. He averaged 16.1 points and 7.8 assists on his way to being named NBA Rookie of the Year.
His numbers only have gone up from there. During the 2007-08 season, Paul averaged a double-double with 21.1 points and 11.6 assists per contest as he led the Hornets to their best record in franchise history at 56-26.
His offensive numbers this year are almost identical to last year's, and he recently was rewarded by being named a starter at guard for the Western Conference All-Stars. His impact isn't felt only on the offensive end of the floor either. Earlier this season, Paul broke Alvin Robertson's 22-year-old NBA record by recording at least one steal in 106 straight games.
Paul's ability to contribute on both ends of the floor from the all-important point guard position was one of the big reasons why the USA was able to strike gold in 2008.
As one of the younger players on the USA Basketball team, Paul cherished the opportunity to play alongside some of the best players in the world while playing for one of the most respected coaches.
'A lot of the guys on the team I already knew on a personal basis, but someone like Kobe Bryant, we played against each other over the past three years but we never knew each other that well,' Paul said. 'We got to know each other and now his family sends me Christmas cards.'
When May rolls around, Paul and Bryant could very well be battling each other for a spot in the NBA finals. Bryant and the Lakers currently have a firm grasp on the top spot in the Western Conference, but Paul and the Hornets are fighting the Portland Trail Blazers for the conference's fourth-best record.
No matter what happens during the NBA season, one thing is for sure: Paul wants to continue playing for Team USA.
Kidd, now 35 years old, is likely to pass the torch of starting point guard for the USA off by the 2012 London Olympics. When he does, the next generation of players will be there to take over.
Paul plans on stepping up and accepting that challenge.
'I definitely want to be a part of 2012 in London,' Paul said.