They've played in smaller groupings the past few years in international basketball competition — at the 2004 Athens Summer Games, the 2006 World Championships, the 2007 FIBA Americas Championships — and they've faced each other over the years in NBA play.

But this weekend, the 12 members of the 2008 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team — including Utah Jazz teammates Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams — are coming together for the first time as a team in their quest for gold.

That's gold, as in the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games and the precious-metal medal that eluded the Americans four years ago in Athens and led to a revamped USA Basketball selection process.

Joining Williams and Boozer on the '08 Olympic team are fellow NBA stars Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Jason Kidd, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Michael Redd, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Tayshaun Prince.

Making Las Vegas the site of their inaugural gathering this weekend, members of the U.S. Olympic team met Friday night in a team-only session with USA Basketball officials and coaches. That will be followed by this afternoon's three-hour mini-camp session at UNLV's Cox Pavilion, the team's first on-court assembly.

The 35-year-old Kidd is the only one of the 12 with a gold medal to his credit, having played on the U.S. team that swept the 2000 Sydney Olympics field.

Boozer, James, Wade and Anthony were reserves on the U.S. team that suffered three losses in eight outings and settled for the '04 bronze medal in Athens.

After that, USA Basketball —the national governing body for basketball in the United States — changed its selection process for the Olympic team.

Rather than offer invitations to NBA standouts a year or so before the Summer Games and watch the national team become a revolving door of "who's in and who's out," USA Basketball in 2005 started seeking multi-year commitments from

top players to participate not only in the Beijing Olympics but also in international competition leading up to the Games.

The result was a 33-member U.S. Select roster comprised from 2005 to 2007 and used to select players for the U.S. entries at the '06 World Championships and '07 FIBA Americas Championships.

Three players from the current Olympic squad — Anthony, Howard and James — played in both tournaments.

Joining them at the '06 Worlds were Bosh, Paul and Wade; joining them at the '07 Americas were Bryant, Kidd, Prince, Redd and Williams.

Boozer missed the previous two summer competitions — the first because of injury and the latter due to family medical circumstances.

But it's not like the '08 Olympic team is a collection of newcomers in need of "Hello, my name is S" nametags. They're among the cream of the NBA crop and have squared off against each other in countless NBA regular-season, postseason and All-Star games.

After the weekend mini-camp, the U.S. Olympic team will return to Las Vegas July 21 for a four-day training camp, concluded with a July 25 exhibition game against Canada at UNLV's Thomas and Mack Center.

Prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which run from Aug. 8-24, the Olympic team will train and play a series of preliminary exhibitions in China.

Opening in Macau, the United States will face Turkey on July 31 and Lithuania on Aug. 1. The Americans then move to Shanghai, playing Russia on Aug. 3 and Australia on Aug. 5.

The U.S. opens Olympic pool play against host China on Aug. 10.


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com