So here it is, 16 years after American basketball made its point, and again two Jazz players are on the Olympic team.

And again there's a point to make.

In 1992 and 1996, Karl Malone and John Stockton were part of USA Basketball's elite club. Monday, Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams were among 12 players named to the 2008 Olympic team.

Here comes American hoops: flashy, fast, strong and — at least on paper — scary. Also selected were Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd, Tayshaun Prince, Chris

Bosh, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Michael Redd.

"The only thing on my mind is the gold medal," said Williams. "Anything less would be disappointing."

"It's really the world's game," said USA coach Mike Krzyzewski, from a press conference in Chicago. "We think we're the best at playing that game."

Same as the old days, right? America schools and rules.

Not necessarily.

Unless you've been unconscious the past two decades, you'll know things are vastly different than when the original Dream Team appeared. Back then, the Americans decided to include professionals in the Olympics. It worked marvelously. Team USA took gold, winning by an average of nearly 44 points.

Strange how quickly things evolved. In '92, America assembled what many consider the greatest team in sports history. It included Malone, Stockton, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Scottie Pippen, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan.

That wasn't a basketball team, it was an art exhibit. Aside from winning by ridiculous scores, the Dream Team enjoyed rock star status. One foreign player was so awestruck at guarding Johnson that he openly coaxed a teammate to snap photos from the bench.

Mama Mia! I'm guarding the Magic Man!

Now the (basketball) world is smaller. You know that saying about familiarity breeding contempt?

Foreign teams aren't afraid of the big, bad Americans anymore.

"I don't think they are anymore, after what has happened the last couple of years in international competition," said Jazz guard Deron Williams. "But I feel as a team this year, it's going to be tough to beat us."

While not all 2008 Olympic entries have been determined, and not all rosters are set, one thing is certain: the "gee-whiz" era has passed. This year there were 76 international players in the NBA.

For instance, you won't see Canadian Steve Nash — a two- time MVP — mugging for photos of him guarding Paul. Nor will you see Spain's Pau Gasol genuflecting to Anthony or China's Yao Ming deferring to Howard.

You know that phrase "out of their league?"

They're not.

Russian Olympian Andrei Kirilenko knows the strengths and weaknesses of his Jazz teammates like he knows the route to his driveway.

There's not likely to be anything easy about America getting gold this time.

So the foreigners are coming — and have been for a long time. America hasn't won a major international championship since the 2000 Summer Olympics. Even then, it struggled to beat Lithuania by a basket and had to scrap to win the gold medal game against France. France!

Shouldn't that country stick to being rude and making pastries?

Team USA lost a humiliating three games in 2004 in Athens.

That, then, is the difference Williams and Boozer will face. The world isn't intimidated by American ballplayers. No longer can a U.S. player go "Boo!" and make people scatter.

Which brings us back to the comparisons between today's Jazz stars and yesterday's. Those comparisons were hard to miss Monday at the Jazz practice facility, where Williams met with the local media. The podium was flanked by poster-size photos of Boozer and Malone, Williams and Stockton.

The '92 Jazz players were in the prime of their careers. Malone had been an All-Star five times, Stockton four. Malone had been in the league seven years, Stockton eight. The 2008 Jazz stars are less established. Boozer has been in the NBA six years, an All-Star twice. Williams is just a three-year veteran and has never been named to an All-Star team.

Yes, there are similarities between situations. But they're not identical.

Back then, America owned basketball. Today the game is everywhere.

And in more ways than one, the world is a much more dangerous place.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com