LONDON (AP) — Carmelo Anthony has not only accepted his sixth man role on the star-studded U.S. men's basketball team, he's thriving in it at the Olympics.
Anthony is in an offensive zone that few players ever stay in — though he has frequently lived in it while wearing the red, white and blue.
The 6-foot-8 forward is the Americans' leading scorer, averaging 20.7 points in just 14.3 minutes per game.
"He is one of the best shooters in the world," U.S. center Tyson Chandler said of his New York Knicks' teammate. "Some nights he gets hot and there's nothing anybody can do about it."
Yet there was a time this spring when Anthony struggled with the Knicks.
He battled injuries and was surprisingly ineffective under coach Mike D'Antoni, who resigned in March with the Knicks.
Anthony had a somewhat strained relationship with D'Antoni — a U.S. assistant coach and the architect of the U.S. team's offense. And considering Anthony's mediocre play four years ago at the Beijing Games and the fact the U.S. had LeBron James and Kevin Durant, there were reports Anthony's spot wasn't a given.
U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski, however, admires Anthony's commitment to the USA Basketball program — he's a three-time Olympian — and values his versatility.
"He's one of the top players in the world. Carmelo in international play can play three positions and on our team he's not married to one position. So any time down the court, he can be in different spots and I think a really good player likes that," Krzyzewski said.
The international style of play is tailor-made for Anthony.
He enjoys the physical contact inside and is armed with a lethal midrange jumper that allows him to take advantage of the shorter international 3-point line, a little more than 22 feet away — like he did Thursday against Nigeria, making 10 of 12 from the behind the arc en route to setting the U.S. men's record for points in an Olympic game with 37.
Another bullet point for Anthony's impressive international resume.
He averaged 19.9 points in the 2006 world basketball championship, setting a then-U.S. record with 35 points in a victory over Italy. He returned the next year and scored 21.2 points per game in the Olympic qualifier, establishing numerous team records for that tournament along the way.
His numbers decreased in Beijing, falling to 11.5 points per game as he struggled to find his opportunities the first time the Americans had he, James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade together. Nobody knew quite what to expect this year, with Durant on the roster after smashing Anthony's records two years ago in the 2010 worlds, then replacing Anthony in the lineup after the second exhibition game.
But Krzyzewski felt Anthony would flourish this summer.
"Carmelo's one of the better international players. He's one of the best players, but that doesn't always translate to being that good internationally," the coach said.
Anthony hasn't disappointed.
In addition to leading the U.S. in scoring, Anthony is 12 of 16 from 3-point range, not only leading the Olympics but with the kind of accuracy many players can't even reach from the free throw line.
Anthony hit 10 of his 12 3-pointers Thursday against Nigeria.
"Well, the support system that we had, that I had with my teammates, you can't explain that," Anthony said. "The way that they tell me to shoot the ball, encouraging me to make shots, take shots, but then just to feel it every time, that touch, it's kind of hard to explain it. If you've never done it, you really wouldn't understand what I'm talking about just in terms of shooting the ball and shooting it well."
After making all six shots in a 16-point performance Tuesday against Tunisia, Anthony has hit 22-of-32 shots in London, 68.8 percent, though that number seems puny next to his 13-of-16 performance (81 percent) Thursday while eclipsing Stephon Marbury's U.S. Olympic record of 31 points.
Anthony now holds two of the three highest-scoring games every by a U.S. men's national team player — he fell a point shy of Durant's 38 — with perhaps five more games in this tournament to see if he can duplicate Thursday's performance.
"I've seen Carmelo shoot like that," U.S. teammate Andre Iguodala said. "I've played with Carmelo since high school, so I've seen him have some pretty big nights and I've seen him in the league where he's had some pretty big nights. So, we've all seen it."
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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.