DeMar DeRozan is a step closer to making his Olympic debut.
The star Toronto Raptors guard was among 30 players selected Monday as finalists for the U.S. basketball team that will attempt in Rio de Janeiro to win a third straight gold medal.
DeRozan joins an elite group including LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, each looking for a fourth Olympic berth, and Stephen Curry, who is in line for his first.
"He’s in that elite status, it’s a compliment to his game, to his play," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. "I think it’s a great honour, gives him an opportunity to work against those guys all summer long, work on his game, pick up a little nuance here and there by going against those guys."
DeRozan was part of the American squad that finished 9-0 and won the gold medal at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. He averaged 4.8 points, 1.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 11.7 minutes, while shooting .536 from the field.
DeRozan scored 10 points off the bench during the gold medal game against Serbia.
The native of Compton, Calif., has spent his entire seven-year career with the Raptors. He is averaging a team-best 22.6 points (11th in the NBA) through 40 games this season and ranks second in the league in free throws made (279) and attempted (330).
The final 12-player roster will be chosen this summer. If James and Anthony are on it they would become the first American men to play in four Olympics.
The other candidates for Rio are: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City); Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan (Clippers); Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio); Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes (Golden State); Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (Cleveland); Dwight Howard and James Harden (Houston); Anthony Davis (New Orleans); Paul George (Indiana); DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay (Sacramento); John Wall and Bradley Beal (Washington); Jimmy Butler (Chicago); Mike Conley (Memphis); Andre Drummond (Detroit); Kenneth Faried (Denver) and Gordon Hayward (Utah).
"The depth of talent that exists in the national team program is extraordinary. Repeating as gold medallists at the 2016 Olympics will not be easy, but we feel confident that we have 30 finalists who offer amazing basketball abilities and special versatility," USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said in a statement.
Kobe Bryant, who is retiring after this season, took himself out of the running for a third Olympics this weekend.
James and Anthony have already joined Hall of Famer David Robinson as the only U.S. men to play in three Olympics, winning bronze in 2004 before leading the U.S. to gold in Beijing and London. Paul could join that list this summer.
James has said he would base his decision about playing on his health and his family’s wishes, and may not decide until after his NBA season ends.
"I haven’t thought about it," he said at Cleveland’s shootaround before its game against Golden State on Monday.
"The last time I thought about Team USA was Kobe taking his name out of the pool. That’s the last thing I kind of really thought about, so I’m not any inch closer to playing or not any inch closer to not playing. I haven’t really thought about it much."
After playing in five straight NBA Finals, another lengthy season could impact his interest in wearing the red, white and blue again.
"The season has always kind of dictated it," James said.
Ten players have suited for the Americans in the Olympics, but Curry isn’t among them. He wasn’t chosen for the team in 2012, shortly before the NBA’s MVP broke out as one of the game’s biggest superstars.
He won gold medals in the 2010 world basketball championship and 2014 Basketball World Cup and will be a strong candidate to make the Olympic team now even in a crowded point guard field that includes Paul, Westbrook, Irving — the MVP of the World Cup in Spain two years ago — Wall and Conley.
Colangelo has said the Americans could send their strongest team yet to the Olympics, and it could certainly be their most experienced one. The pool of finalists includes 18 players who have won Olympic or world championships, and seven players who have played at least 30 international games — led by Anthony’s 72.
"This selection process was difficult from the start, and obviously it is only going to get more difficult as we look to get to the official, 12-man roster," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I’m excited about the possibilities this team has."