USA Hoops Stars Put On a Show for Troops


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Thousands of soldiers and their families yelled and screamed, cheered and squealed for the nation's top basketball players Saturday at the D.C. Armory.

When the dunking and shooting, no-look passes and cross-over dribbles were done, the players and coaches from USA Basketball showed the admiration goes in both directions.

Following a three-hour event where the U.S. Olympic men's and women's basketball teams held a children's clinic and practiced, a group of Army soldiers lined up at mid-court.

Lined up and facing them were Team USA's men's and women's players.

Each soldier walked forward, removed a small flag patch from the shoulder sleeve of their uniform and handed it to a player to take with them to London for the Olympics this month.

"The flag tells us everything," said Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers and Team USA guard who played at Wake Forest.

Saturday's event came together following a conversation between Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Team USA's coach, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, last winter.

Dempsey, who holds a master's degree from Duke, attended a Blue Devils game at Cameron Indoor Stadium and met with Krzyzewski afterward. As a result, nearly 4,000 troops and their families, including many wounded veterans, got an up-close look at LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the rest of Team USA.

"I feel honored to be here," said Kiombre Clark, a 23-year-old Air Force Senior Airman from Gastonia. "It's a great opportunity that we don't get normally. I think it shows that they respect the military."

Clark had an extra treat. She was invited to participate in an on-court shooting contest with Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder star forward.

That's the kind of interaction the players were glad to take part in.

"We feel like we are representing them," said Tyson Chandler, the New York Knicks center. "They do so much for our country. When we go over and talk to the wounded warriors, they are the real heroes."

Dempsey and the rest of the Joint Chiefs had dinner with Krzyzewski and the Team USA coaching staff on Friday night in Washington. On Saturday, Dempsey addressed the teams.

"Everything around here is about trust," Paul said. "Us being together for such a short period of time, playing for such a big prize, we have to trust one another. That's one of the biggest things we can take from the military. Just hearing everyone's stories throughout this whole process, that just gives us a little more pride and a little bit more edge as we go overseas."

Krzyzewski, a West Point graduate who attained the rank of captain in the service before beginning his Hall of Fame coaching career, called the flag exchange the highlight of the day.

"The exchange of the flags from the people who are actually serving our country on a day-to-day basis to us," Krzyzewski said, "we think that's the single biggest gesture that they could give us in support of us. We accepting them is in honor of them. Today was special."

Paul said he still has a flag patch that was given to him in 2006 when, while participating with Team USA in Seoul, Korea, the team visited a U.S. military base.

"There is no greater feeling than performing in front of our troops," Paul said. "They go out and protect our freedoms day in and day out. The least we can do is come out here and have a little fun and play some ball. When we go to London for the Olympics, this is who we represent."

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