Chris Paul on the point as Argentina game approaches

As Argentina approaches again, he leads

sfowler@charlotteobserver.comAugust 9, 2012 

— Chris Paul has been in the middle of just about everything for the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team. And that’s just the way he likes it.

Paul, who also won a gold medal with the U.S. team in 2008, said he is having “so much fun” in these Olympics. He called it “the second time I’m getting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The former Wake Forest star will start at point guard for the U.S. Friday in the semifinal against Argentina (4 p.m. Eastern) – a team the U.S. already beat by 29 points Monday night in a controversial game.

Video showed that Argentinian guard Facundo Campazzo got away with a punch to Carmelo Anthony’s groin area right in front of the U.S. bench in the fourth quarter of that game just as Anthony hoisted a three-pointer.

Campazzo said later, however, that he didn’t apologize to Anthony because Paul had punched him earlier in the game. Asked about that supposed incident, Paul countered: “Which time? We got tangled up 1,000 times.”

Tough, responsible and quick, Paul has emerged as the point guard Coach Mike Krzyzewski most wants on the floor when the game is tight.

Paul played that role for much of the 2008 Olympics, too, but back then Jason Kidd started due to his vast international experience. Paul leads the Olympics in steals (2.7 per game) and is tied for fifth in assists (5.3). He rarely shoots on a squad brimming with scorers, averaging a modest 7.5 points per game as he concentrates more on his role as an on-floor leader.

“It starts with me,” said Paul, who noted he has sometimes gotten in trouble in these Olympics by gambling for steals. “If our defense isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do, that falls on my shoulders.”

Paul said on the eve of the tournament that this team was better than the 2008 version that won the gold medal over Spain in the final. “I know if I played against myself in 08, I would beat me,” Paul said, adding that “LeBron James 2012 would kill LeBron James 2008.”

Paul also said then that if the current Olympic team played in the NBA that it would go around 80-2 in the regular season.

So the current L.A. Clipper is confident. But Paul also understands that the final four teams – Spain plays Russia in the other semifinal – all have a chance to beat each other. He remembers watching the U.S. team lose in an Olympic semifinal to an Argentina squad that starred Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola – just like this one does – on TV in 2004.

“That’s something you never forget,” said Paul, who had 17 points and seven assists Monday in the U.S. win over Argentina.

Paul has his mother, father, brother and sister-in-law in London to watch him play. He said he has thoroughly enjoyed the England experience, including a 30-minute talk he had during the opening ceremonies with American beach volleyball players Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor. He had gotten to know them at the 2008 Olympics.

“Between games, I get a chance to go see the best athletes in the world,” Paul said. “Then I get to go play on the best team I’ve ever been on. Words can’t describe it.”

Of course, a loss would put a damper on the whole experience. Paul said ultimately the U.S. team is “here for one reason and one reason only” – a gold medal.

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