Scott Fowler

Point guard Paul can't go home without gold medal

Leave it to Chris Paul to supply the hyperbole for the upcoming U.S. gold-medal basketball game against Spain.

“This is the biggest game any of us have ever played in,” said Paul, whose team will face Spain at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in China (2:30 a.m. EDT). “It's bigger than the NBA championship. It's bigger than any college championship.”

Paul has fully immersed himself in the Olympic experience. He has also totally invested himself in winning gold, saying silver would be “terrible.”

He's a good symbol of the 2008 U.S. men's Olympic basketball team – extremely talented and willing to accept a lesser role to win.

I believe Paul is the best point guard in the world right now. The New Orleans Hornet was No. 2 in the NBA's MVP voting last season, behind Kobe Bryant but ahead of LeBron James and Kevin Garnett.

Yet Paul comes off the bench for Team USA.

How would you like that luxury if you were coach Mike Krzyzewski? Coach K starts Jason Kidd at point guard, but he plays Paul more minutes (21 per game vs. 14 for Kidd).

Paul doesn't care how that shakes out, he said.

“What I do care about, though, is this gold medal,” said the Winston-Salem native and former Wake Forest star. “I can't go back home to North Carolina without it.”

While here, Paul has made sure to get to other Olympic events. He's attended beach volleyball, swimming, boxing and tennis.

“I'm a fan,” he said. “I've even watched power walking (race-walking) on TV. I never knew that was an Olympic sport.”

What did he like most?

“Probably Michael Phelps,” Paul said. “He was unbelievable, the way he just kept winning.”

Paul hasn't been homesick here, because he brought a lot of home with him. His mother, father, brother and girlfriend came to Beijing. He's also been frequently talking with the Wake Forest basketball coaches while he's been in China.

Although Paul averaged 21 points for the Hornets last season, he hardly tries to score on this team. He is averaging just 7.3 points for Team USA but leads the team in assists and is tied for the lead in steals.

In Friday's semifinal against 2004 Olympic champion Argentina, the U.S. bolted to a 30-11 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Argentina trimmed that margin to nine by halftime, but the U.S. won comfortably, 101-81.

The Americans have yet to have a close game in this tournament. They already whipped Spain, their opponent in the final, 119-82 in pool play.

The Spaniards are led by Pau Gasol, Bryant's teammate on the L.A. Lakers.

The final won't be close, either. The U.S. (7-0 in these Olympics) has everything it needs on this squad to avoid any further basketball embarrassment.

Team USA has failed to win a gold medal in the past three major international events it has played – the FIBA world championships in 2002 and 2006 and, most strikingly, the Summer Olympics of 2004.

But Paul will go home happy. He never won an NCAA title at Wake Forest. He hasn't won an NBA championship with the Hornets. But he's only a few hours away from a gold medal.