BACK IN THE FOLD

For an athlete, being on the outside looking in has to be the worst feeling in the world.

Your teammates are competing, having fun and winning while you’re on the sidelines watching, wondering if you’ll ever get an opportunity to return and contribute.

Chris Paul and Chris Bosh both had that helpless feeling last summer, watching the U.S. men’s basketball team qualify for the Olympics by winning the FIBA Americas Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center. Paul, the New Orleans Hornets point guard, was out following surgery on his left foot, and Bosh, a 6-foot-10-inch power forward for the Toronto Raptors, was sidelined with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.

And because Team USA won without them, it was understandable why some doubt creeped into both players’ minds about whether they would be invited back to play with the squad in next month’s Beijing Olympics.

"I can’t even put into words how frustrating it was for me," Paul said Wednesday at Valley High School, where Team USA is holding its training camp. "I came out here and watched the games last summer, and it was tough to see the guys having fun and not being able to be part of it."

Bosh said: "You feel like you’re missing out. You sit on the sidelines, you’re still part of the team, but you don’t feel like you’re part of the team."

Both players were added to Team USA’s final roster, and both will play critical roles in the Americans’ attempt to recapture the gold medal.

"Chris Bosh gives us a big guy who can run, block shots and guard three different positions," USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "With Chris Paul, watching him two years ago and to see where he is now, he’s at a much different level. Strength-wise, his decision-making, his all-around game has more maturity. He’s probably made the most dramatic improvement of anyone we have over the last two years."

Paul said playing in the Olympics was a big part of his motivation to improve.

"Missing last year was bad enough," he said. "I wasn’t going to miss this."

Bosh said opportunities such as these are so rare in a player’s career and to miss out would be something he would have regretted the rest of his life.

"You never know if you’ll get another chance," he said. "So when they told me I was going to come back and be part of this team, I was very excited. But I never took it for granted. I actually put a doubt in my mind so I would practice harder."

Paul will back up starter Jason Kidd, and he knows his job is to maintain the level of play set by the starters.

"It’s like I tell my teammates with the Hornets, ‘No letting up,’ " Paul said. "Whatever Jason does, it’s up to me and (Deron Williams) to keep it going."

Bosh’s responsibility is to defend, rebound, block shots and run the floor, hopefully getting some transition scoring opportunities.

"I better make sure I’m in shape to run with those guys," he said of a quick lineup that could find Bosh on the floor with Paul, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and either LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. "My focus has to be on defense first. Here, I don’t have to score, but I have to be patient and be ready to score when I get the opportunity."

• NOTES — James will probably not play Friday in an exhibition against Canada at the Thomas & Mack Center. He suffered a sprained right ankle and was held out of Wednesday’s practice at Valley. … Former UNLV center Joel Anthony is listed on Canada’s roster for Friday. Anthony, who played on the Rebels’ NCAA Sweet 16 team in 2007, is a native of Montreal.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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